Blinkfestivalen is the granddaddy of the summer show competitions, dating back to 2006 when event director Arne Idland was tasked to put the summer event on for the first time. Idland is still the man in charge today. Blink is unique in that it originally was a “made for TV” event and remains so, but besides the elite competition show, it is a sports promotional and entertainment event, with kids camps and competitions every day plus three evening music concerts. Just as unique is the fact that everything is free; the public gets these up-close-and-personal moments with the big stars all gratis, due to the many sponsors that foot the bill for the event.
Following the Lysebotn Opp, a grueling 7.5 km uphill grind at 10% with 27 hairpin curves is a day of long-distance cross-country skiing races of 50 and 25 km for the elites and amateurs, followed by some shorter races for youth and juniors.
Biathlon is center stage on Friday starting with the shooting duel. This always fun competition goes through a series of separate men’s and women’s heats until the top man and woman line up for an almost Wild West showdown for supremacy. After this warm-up competition, super sprints take center stage with the finals at 18:55 local time. This year’s fields are exceptionally strong with eight of the top ten men in last season’s World Cup Total Score on hand. Number one Johannes Thingnes Boe is skipping Blink, but his teammate and rival number two Sturla Holm Laegreid is on the start list as well as Tarjei Boe and recently married Johannes Dale.
Laegreid sees Blink as special because the atmosphere reminds him of the World Cup circuit. At the same time, the jump into racing shocks the system into dealing with the pressure of competition after an extended training period. “It’s kind of our reminder of how it’s going to be in the winter, with the crowd, the noise, the bib and the nerves. Like jumping into cold water, going from easy training with no pressure in the summer, to suddenly competing and everything that comes with it. For me, I hope I can remember my routines and trust my instincts when I’m in the heat of the moment. A podium either day would really boost my confidence going into the next training period, but no podium would also drive me to train even better!”
His teammate, Tarjei, a veteran of many summer competitions at Blink has similar thoughts about these annual competitions. “The best thing about competing at Blink is to finally get some adrenalin after some months of training. You get a reminder of your status and skills, and I often use these races to adjust my training towards the important autumn training.”
Yet for both the Friday super sprint and Saturday’s mass starts, the man to watch is “Mr. Blinkfestivalen” Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen. Christiansen took the trifecta: shooting duel, super sprint and mass start in 2021, both races in 2022 and will be going for a three-peat this week. Last year, Christiansen admitted that he loves the “tight duels and the pressure from the audience” that fills him with adrenalin.
Although the home team Norwegians are the fan favorites, Vetle, Sturla and Co. will have their hands full with the visiting French, Germans and Ukraine’s Dmytro Pidruchnyi who will make his first start at Blink. Quentin Fillon Maillet and Emilien Jacquelin lead the French squad that uses Blink as a conclusion to their annual training camp in Norway.
Germany, like France, is also conducting a two-week camp in Norway that closes with the Blink competitions. Adding the speedy and always competitive Benedikt Doll and sharpshooting Roman Rees to the competition mix makes Blink look like a typical BMW IBU World Cup showdown.
Doll expects the competitions to be tough with the stacked field, but he will be focused on the shooting range. “Even though every nation is at a different place in their training, everyone wants to do their best (in the competitions). For me, it is really important to see if my new rifle and new shooting skills are working well. It is always good to test this in the stress of competition. I am surprised that eight of the top ten men will be on the start, so I think it will be a hard fight; it will be most important to shoot fast and clean. I do not expect too much difference on the tracks but we will see.”
The Blink programme concludes with mass start finals in the early evening after a qualifying round. Although all eyes will be on Christiansen should he win the super sprint again, the women’s mass start, as well as the super sprint, should be great competitions. At this point, the big story will be the return of Olympic Mass Start Gold medallist Justine Braisaz-Bouchet after sitting out last winter on maternity leave. She and French breakout star Lou Jeanmonnot will be up against World Cup Total Score sixth place Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold who has become very skilled in getting on the podium in mass starts.
The German ladies at Blink will definitely put pressure on the French and Norwegian teams. Past IBU Cup Total Score winner Vanessa Voigt is among the shooters on the World Cup circuit. Franziska Preuss, after cutting last season short to regain her health, will up the pressure on her rivals with her always excellent shooting.
However, the most intriguing battle in the women’s field might pit two juniors: Germany’s rising star Selina Grotian against her contemporary Norway’s Maren Kirkeeide. The 19-year Grotian won four Gold medals at the IBU YJWCH while the 20-year-old Kirkeeide was piling up three individual and three mixed relay victories on the IBU Cup circuit and finished fourth in the Total Score. The duel might easily be a look into future BMW IBU World Cup podium tussles.
Regardless of who wins the podium battles, the Blinkfestivalen will be an entertaining mid-summer kick-off for the 2023 “Rollerski Season.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Archive