5 things we learned in the 2020/21 season
The guidelines and the bubble that the IBU created with the help of health experts before the season proved to be a huge success. They enabled a season in which Tiril Eckhoff had 13 wins and won her first-ever Total Score title, JT Boe withstood season-long attacks from Sturla Holm Laegreid, and Dzinara Alimbekava and Laegreid wore the Blue bib at the end of the competitions in Oestersund as the best U25 athletes of the season.
- Tiril Eckhoff was unstoppable in her first-ever Total Score triumph
Tiril Eckhoff won the Total Score title for the first time in her career in one of the best seasons ever performed by a biathlete. In doing so, Eckhoff won 13 competitions, an achievement that fell just one win short of Magdalena Forsberg’s record 14 wins in the 2000/2001 season. She won 52.4 points per competition, which translates into second to third place on average in each of the 22 competitions that counted at the end of the season; this was more than any man won this season, including the great JT Boe and Sturla Holm Laegreid. Eckhoff also won the Total Score titles in the sprint (seven wins) and the pursuit (six wins), as well as six medals, four of them gold, at the IBU World Championships Pokljuka 2021. She reached such a high level of continued excellence after nine seasons of immense ups and downs thanks to her dedication and the fine-tuning of coach Patrick Oberegger, who helped her find balance and above all, taught her not to get down on herself when things don’t look good. Throughout this season, Eckhoff stayed true to her easy-going self but also remained humble and grateful for the fact that the luck of biathlon finally smiled upon her.
- JT Boe’s Total Score triple
On the most important day of the season, when he was unsure of his rifle and unsettled in his shooting routine, with the wind blowing relentlessly in the Oestersund stadium, JT Boe kept his composure and kept Sturla Holm Laegreid at bay to win his third Total Score title in a row. JT struggled and was unsteady in his shooting form for most of the season, but his skiing and the incredible depth of his energy reserves carried him over the finish line in the last competition of the season, just like a year ago when he got the better of Martin Fourcade. He has now won three Total Score titles in a row, a rare feat that only Frank Ullrich (1979/1980–1981/1982) and Raphael Poiree (1999/2000–2001/2002) accomplished before Fourcade managed to win the title an unthinkable seven times in a row (2011/2012–2017/2018). As JT said at the end, relieved and happy, every Total Score title has its own story, for the biathlon season is long and full of twists; this one told the story of a great and very unexpected challenger, Laegreid, and a true champion, Boe, who stood his ground when everything was at stake.
- Sturla Holm Laegreid won a Blue bib and much more
Sturla Holm Laegreid entered his first full season at the BMW IBU World Cup level with a win that no one but his coaches expected. He went on to win seven competitions in the 2020/2021 season, including his first-ever individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start, relay and mixed relay wins, his first-ever IBU World Championship gold medal (and four gold medals altogether) and his first-ever Total Score discipline win (in the individual). He brought his shooting accuracy to a rarely-seen height of consistency (93%) by successfully implementing his meditation techniques and copying the style of Martin Fourcade. He also pushed JT Boe out of his comfort zone, forcing him to once again find new limits to his biathlon before the last competition tilted the season JT’s way. It was also Sturla’s intriguing intellectual personality that brought new perspectives and freshness to the season.
- Dzinara Alimbekava won a Blue bib
Dzinara Alimbekava returned from the off-season as a woman transformed, fitter than ever, her injuries forgotten, her shooting technique improved and her skiing technique adjusted to the demands of today’s fast-paced biathlon. She had a very strong opening to the season, crowned by a win and a second place in the first week of Hochfilzen. She fought through a mid-season slump in form and started rebounding at the IBU World Championships Pokljuka 2021, which led to a strong finish in Nove Mesto na Morave and Oestersund that brought her two second-place finishes and two further positions in the flowers. This was enough to withstand all attacks from Marketa Davidova and above all, from Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold, and helped her finish the season in the Blue bib as the best athlete younger than 25. In the end, Alimbekava came in sixth in the Total Score standings with 734 points while Tandrevold finished seventh with 707 points.
- France had an up-and-down season without Martin Fourcade
Emilien Jacquelin and Quentin Fillon Maillet were hailed as the strongest challengers to JT Boe after Martin Fourcade finished his career at the end of the 2019/2020 season. They both had days of brilliance in the 2020/2021 season, such as Jacquelin’s fast-shooting masterpiece in his pursuit win at the IBU World Championships Pokljuka 2021 and Fillon Mallet’s sprint-pursuit double in the second week of Nove Mesto na Morave (Fillon Mallet was only the third Frenchman after Raphael Poiree and Fourcade to achieve this). They also both had days that hindered their chances in their quest for the Total Score title, such as Fillon Maillet’s first week in Oberhof and Jacquelin’s week in Antholz–Anterselva. Simon Desthieux won silver in Pokljuka 2021 and added two wins to his name by the end of the season. The women banked Julia Simon’s two mass start wins and Anais Chevalier-Bouchet’s silver (sprint) and bronze (pursuit) medals at Pokljuka 2021. Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, whose promise looked great after Trimester 1 last season, scored just one flower finish (in the second sprint of Oberhof) and had a disappointing World Championship. France nevertheless remained the constant challenger to the dominant Norwegian teams and showed the greatest depth of talent at the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships Obertilliach 2021 with 11 medals, seven of them gold.
Photo: IBU/C. Manzoni