Beijing 2022 Individuals Preview: Shooting is Key

The mixed relay offered most of the top competitors a chance to get a feel for the Olympic Shooting range at Zhangjiakou under the pressure of competition on the world’s biggest stage. Next up are the two individuals, women’s 15 km on Monday and the men’s 20 km on Tuesday. In these longest and toughest competitions, shooting is always the key, but more than ever on this perpetually turbulent shooting range. No doubt the men and women who master the wind will be in the medal mix.

Gold medalists return

The 2018 Gold medalists are back to defend their titles, so right from the start, Hanna Oeberg and Johannes Thingnes Boe have an edge on all of their rivals. Both have won and know what it takes to repeat.

Johannes Thingnes Boe defends title

JT returns to defend his Gold medal and after a slow start to the season suddenly looks like the dominant JT of seasons past. Although his shooting has not been at peak levels, the redhead shot with confidence in the mixed relay and his ski speed was lights out. He said after the Mixed Relay Gold medal effort, “I had a lot of power. My shape is great. I have great fighting spirit.” Nothing more is needed for him to repeat.

Teammates Challenge

However, JT’s victory is far from a given. The challengers, include two teammates, his older brother Tarjei and last season’s phenomenon Sturla Holm Laegreid. Tarjei was second in both BMW IBU World Cup individual competitions this season and has shooting well. Like Wierer, his goal is an individual Olympic medal. Laegreid has the tools to win this competition, with three 20 km individual wins in the past two seasons and a gaudy 90% shooting average this season. JT, Tarjei and Sturla could potentially overwhelm their rivals with a Norwegian podium sweep.

French Trio

A trio of French teammates will do their best to stop that dream podium, especially the BMW IBU World Cup Yellow Bib Quentin Fillon Maillet. The king of the four-stage competitions only has four 20 km podiums but has 30 career podiums (out of 41 total) in four-stage affairs. The enigmatic Emilien Jacquelin has never made a podium in an individual, but if he is focused and fast as usual on his skis, give him a medal…Teammate Simon Desthieux, third in the Oestersund 20m km individual could quietly challenge.

Dark Horses

Then there is Sebastian Samuelsson, who owns two OWG medals from Pyeongchang. Like Jacquelin, the Swede has no podiums in the 20 km, but pleased with his mixed relay effort while admitting conditions were tough. “I was quite pleased, but my ski pace could have been a little bit better…My standing shooting is really good; overall it good.” Beyond this group, keep in mind the sharp-shooting Simon Eder who has 11th, 4th and 6th places in Olympic 20 kms in his resume and on the outside, Pyeongchang Silver medalist Jakov Fak, plus a spoiler that has a career day.

Hanna in the Women’s 15 km

Hanna will get her opportunity to defend first. She has been solid this season with three podiums plus a sprint win. After the mixed relay, she commented on shooting on the conditions and her readiness. “It is tough out there. The wind is not easy on the range and the snow is really slow…We managed the shooting pretty well; the next competition is the individual…The worst of the nerves are away and I will be well prepared.”

Roeiseland leads medal threats

Challengers for the medals include Hanna’s speedy sister Elvira, who is shooting at an 86% clip. Marte Olsbu Roeiseland used a single spare in the mixed relay and seems to have not missed a beat by skipping the Antholz competitions. 2021 IBU World Champion Marketa Davidova won the first 15 km of the season and is shooting at a personal best level. Dorothea Wierer has been heading towards a peak in recent weeks and is seeking her first individual OWG medal.

Look for Lisa Theresa Hauser, the always aggressive Julia Simon and Dzinara Alimbekava to make medal runs. The competition for the three women’s medals will be intense.

The battle for the medals will be hotly contested and no doubt, the windy conditions and slow snow will add to the intrigue, making these traditional biathlon competitions memorable.

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni

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