5 Days until Östersund: Simon, Laura & the German Team
5 days until Östersund when the new BMW IBU World Cup season opens with an afternoon of mixed relays; among the favorites that day will be last season’s top combined team, Germany.
The Germans have consistently been one of the top teams for simply put…a very long time. Their consistent quality is almost legendary, with the women winning the Nations Cup for 9 of the past 11 seasons, while the men have finished in the top 3 for 9 of the past 11 seasons. Last year was no exception with the women winning once again and the men finishing second to Norway.
Their success last season revolved around unquestioned team leaders Simon Schempp and Laura Dahlmeier plus key players like Franziska Hildebrand, Benedikt Doll, Arnd Peiffer and Franziska Preuss. No doubt this same group will lead the team once again in their quest for podiums throughout the season and medals at the IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen.
Schempp has matured over the past couple of seasons from a promising biathlete to simply one of the stars of the sport. Since the 2012-13 season, his Total Score ranking has risen markedly from 29th to 10th to 4th in the past two seasons. Last year, he was easily the man who seemed capable of challenging and beating Martin Fourcade and possibly ending Fourcade’s dominance. His only blip in December was eight penalties in the Östersund sprint that doomed him to 77th place and no pursuit, just a couple of days after finishing 2nd in the 20K individual. Beyond that, the top German had three victories in his next four starts. His confidence was bolstered by clean shooting and strong performances on the tracks. Unfortunately, the important month of January with two home soil World Cups, was his undoing; illness struck and he missed the Ruhpolding/Oberhof week and the 20K the second week. After 6th in the Ruhpolding mass start, he won the Antholz sprint for the third year in a row, and then finished second in the pursuit. From this point, illness hit him again; he never looked the same until the Khanty Mansiysk sprint when he missed topping Julian Eberhard by a single second. Schempp ended his season with a victory in the pursuit the next day. Even after missing so many competitions, Schempp was just 51 points out of second place in the Total Score!
Last year showed that the 28-year-old has all of the tools to fight for the Yellow Bib. He had a good summer of training so the key to the new season is staying healthy.
Last year was nothing short of a career season for this four-time relay Gold medalist at the IBU YJWCH. Doll went from 21st in the 2014-15 World Cup Total Score to 8th last season and solidly the second best of the German men. Along the way, Doll revised his all-time best results list with seven top performances that included eight times in the top 10. Doll is not the flashiest of biathletes, with solid, but not lights out shooting or blazing ski speed. Yet he shoots and skis consistently well enough to have excellent results like his second place in the Canmore mass start on a windy day, missing the win by just four seconds.
Arnd and Erik
Peiffer is the veteran of the German team, going into his ninth World Cup season, at the age of 29. Last year, he started fast with two second places in Östersund. He quipped at the time, “I am a bit surprised; I have never been on the podium so early in the season.” Those words may have come back to haunt him, as he never found the way to the podium in an individual competition the rest of the season until the Khanty Mansiysk sprint where he finished third. Still, Peiffer finished 11th in the World Cup Total Score, with 10 top ten results, another solid year. He shot well with an 89% success rate and was a key piece of Germany’s Silver medal in the WCH relay.
2015 IBU World Champion Erik Lesser finished 14th in the Total Score. Although he failed to defend his WCH pursuit title, finishing 7th, there was one big highlight in his season. The German team always points to the two home World Cups each season; winning in either Oberhof or Ruhpolding with tens of thousands of adoring fans cheering every shot, is almost like winning a major title. His victory over Fourcade in the Ruhpolding mass start was the only victory for the German men over those two weekends. The always quotable German commented that day, “After all of the (bad) races this season, it is good to be on the podium again!”
Dahlmeier commented recently about her goals this year, “First to stay healthy and compete in as many races as possible, not just compete but compete well. I would also like to win a medal in Hochfilzen; at least one. I know that winning five last year was very special and is very hard to repeat.”
Like Schempp, Dahlmeier might have battled for the World Cup Total Score, had it not been for her health. Despite missing seven competitions during the season, she finished sixth in the World Cup Total Score. Dahlmeier won her first individual World Championship title, claiming the pursuit in Oslo. She also claimed Silver and three Bronze medals last March. When she started, Dahlmeier was usually brilliant, winning five times. The WCH title and medals were topped only by her two victories in the Oberhof/Ruhpolding mass start and pursuit. She only missed one of her forty shots that weekend. Besides her shooting prowess, Dahlmeier can be devastatingly fast on the tracks; she easily pulled away from Gabriela Koukalová in Ruhpolding and won the WCH pursuit by 48 seconds. If she remains healthy and fit, five medals again are very possible.
Hildebrand had one of those magical seasons last year; her first two career individual victories, a dozen top ten results and a career-matching fifth in the World Cup Total Score. Her success was built on great shooting; she shot clean in both of her victories. After her first-ever win in Hochfilzen, she said, “I feel very strong at the shooting range and my head is in the right place. I know that I can do it.” That kind of confidence and top notch shooting was crucial to her success. She missed winning an individual medal in Oslo. Her tenth and fourth places in the sprint and pursuit are good results, but even though she shot well, clean and one penalty respectively, the necessary ski speed was missing. A bit more ski speed this season will guarantee her another big year.
Preuss finished 12th in the World Cup Total Score last season. This was despite missing all of January with an injury. That pretty much took the wind out of the sails of the 22-year-old’s season. After returning, she got progressively better with two top ten finishes in Oslo and a relay Bronze medal, but was running out of time. Fifth place in the Khanty Mansiysk pursuit was her best day of the season and showed her talent. Preuss had a single penalty to finish just 6.5 seconds away from the victory.
Maren, Vanessa and the Relay
Maren Hammerschmidt’s first full World Cup season was a big one, with two podiums in Hochfilzen and 25th in the Total Score. She capped her season with a WCH relay Bronze medal, solidifying her as the number 4 woman for Germany.
These four women plus Miriam Gössner and Vanessa Hinz are the season-opening World Cup team for Germany. Gössner was on the podium once last season and has won at the World Cup level, while Hinz finished 28th in the Total Score. They will be pushed by converted cross-country skier Denise Hermann who will start the season in the IBU Cup. The German women once again have the luxury of several talented and proven women to fill the relay team on any occasion and battle for the podium.
The bottom line is simple: the German women have enough depth and quality to retain the Nations Cup title and the Relay Cup. The German men have enough firepower also to stay near the top in both. However, for the Germans (and every other team), the key athletes need to stay healthy. If that happens, this will probably be another big season for Team Germany.