The BMW IBU World Cup in Oestersund and IBU Cup in Idre successfully opened the 2021/2022 season cheered by returning fans. There were four different winners in Oestersund, with sprints won by Swedish stars Hanna Oeberg and Sebastian Samuelsson. Germany won four times in Idre. Sturla Holm Laegreid won in the individual, but his speed is not up with the fastest at the moment as we have seen in the sprint. Tiril Eckhoff opened the season below expectations. JT Boe was good enough to co-wear Yellow bib with Simon Desthieux after the opening two competitions.
Team Sweden lived through two extremes
Swedish athletes blasted from the starting gate in the opening competition of the season, in the individual, but shooting let them down. Swedish women missed a combined 27 times (77.5% team accuracy), with Olympic and world champion in the individual Hanna Oeberg missing seven times. Swedish men missed a combined 34 times ( 72% team accuracy), with Sebastian Samuelsson missing six times. New dawn brought a brilliant performance from Hanna Oeberg and Samuelsson in the sprint; they shot spotlessly and were among the fastest (Oeberg fifth, Samuelsson the fastest) on the tracks for a double win for Sweden. Elvira Oeberg had five misses in the individual and two in the sprint, but she was the fastest skier on both occasions. When she elevates her shooting percentage, she will be a force every week.
The men’s field is the most exciting in years
After JT Boe’s strong but not overpowering start to the season, Sturla Holm Laegreid’s evident lack of ski speed, and Emilien Jacquelin’s and Quentin Fillon Maillet’s volatile shooting performance, the men’s field looks increasingly exciting. Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson looked very powerful in his sprint win as he won seven seconds over JT in the final lap. Simon Desthieux has built on his stellar second half of last season and now looks very comfortable in the role of one of the best biathletes in the world. Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen’s hard work paid off in the sprint where he beat the great JT for the first podium in two years, and Tarjei Boe also opened with a podium finish in the individual. Add Sivert Guttorm Bakken with 30/30 shooting in the opening days and two Top 10 finishes, much improved Eduard Latypov of Russia, and brave-hearted Fabien Claude, and we have an entertaining season ahead of us.
Laegreid kept control over the riffle but lacks speed on the skis
Sturla Holm Laegreid started the new season just like the last year's one: with 20/20 in the individual and a win. A stable performance, in sync with his mantra - to always compete within your means, do your best, and not something you didn’t train for - translated into 11th range time, 22nd shooting time, 16th skiing time, and 22nd course time. In the end, Laegreid still won one minute ahead of second-placed Tarjei Boe and the rest of the field. Laegreid was well aware that his shape on the skis wasn't the best, and that proved to be true in the sprint where he finished 37th with one miss and 46th course time.
Tiril Eckhoff is looking for a winning form
Tiril Eckhoff, the winner of 13 competitions and a Total Score title last season, had a shaky opening in Oestersund’s first weekend. She shot with 73% percent accuracy and, even more worrying for her, was nowhere near the speed that Oeberg sisters and also French and Belarus women showed on the skis. Eckhoff is not fond of short and dark Scandinavian late autumn and winter days and tends to blossom when the caravan moves to Central Europe. There is another week in Oestersund awaiting her, and she will need to step up her performance to reconnect with the best like she did last year, when she opened the season with 67th place in the individual and 43rd in the sprint before she finished eighth in the second sprint of Kontiolahti and won in the pursuit.
Germany in charge in Idre
Marion Wiesensarter in the opening sprint and Franziska Hildebrand in the sprint and pursuit scored three out of three possible wins for German women at the IBU Cup opening competitions in Idre, Sweden. Evgeniya Burtasova was ninth, fifth, and second and is the leading woman in the IBU Cup Total Score standings. On the men’s side, Lucas Fratzscher also opened the IBU Cup season with a win for German men in the first sprint before Alexander Fjeld Andersen in the second sprint and Vasilli Tomshin in the pursuit won for Norway and Russia. Fratzscher was first, second and sixth in Idre and is atop the IBU Cup Total Score standings for men. Buratova’s and Fratzscher’s lead in the Total Score show that consistency trumps flashes of brilliance.
Photo: IBU/C. Manzoni