Gala Mass Start looked a lot like the BMW IBU World Cup mass start: the top 15 in last season’s WC Total Score qualified automatically, and the 2022 IBU SBWCH medalists earned their starting places, as did the top point winners in Ruhpolding. The prize money for the athletes was generous: 15,000 EUR went to the winner; the Top 15 were all rewarded. The home nation Germany competed with its strongest athletes, as did Sweden, Italy, and the Czech Republic. France and Norway were notably absent, but this might change in the future as the IBU Summer Biathlon Event Series gains even more traction and athletes hear about the enthusiasm of those who participate this August.
”Racing the Gala Mass Start was so much fun! It was my first time racing at an SBWCH, but it was a great event. I think it will bring more top names in the future for a ‘halfway’ test before the winter! For the biathlon family, it’s a big win with the extra attention during the off-winter time," commented the men's winner Sebastian Samuelsson.
"I think it was similar to the winter version of Mass Start. It was a bit strange to rollerski on the shorter tracks and use the same penalty loop as in winter. But it is good to race in head-to-head competitions in the summer. With the prize money incentive, it might attract more big names in the future," said Marketa Davidova, who finished third (and was second in the sprint).
Mona Brorsson was even more excited, saying: "It was a really fun competition and I hope there will be more in the future. If it becomes part of the Nations Cup, all the bigger teams will start to come. Perhaps they will combine it with the preparations camps."
US team coach, Armin Auchentaller of Italy, liked the event, but suggested some changes and additions.
"I think it is a good idea, but I would like to see the field extended to Mass Start 60. Many teams traveled to this event and spent the whole week in Ruhpolding. Especially for the smaller teams, it would be helpful to give more athletes a chance to compete."
Jonne Kahkonen, the Finnish coach in the Italian team, felt that the new structure of the field and the presence of the mass start in the summer world championships programme has many pluses.
"It just feels that it is best for our team if we only send the more experienced athletes to the world championships for the summer camps. I think that it's necessary to have a checkpoint competition at the end of the summer or in the early fall. It's not so much about the results, but to see what kind of work you still need to do before the winter. We have had the first team test events already, and we are striving to have these consistently throughout the summer. But that was more internal competition. It is good to go out and have some spectators and, you know, have more like the usual competition feeling, and see how each athlete can put their pieces together. I think this new approach for the summer tour will stimulate more athletes to join."
Photo: IBU/C. Manzoni