5 things we learned in Oberhof Week 1
Tiril Eckhoff ruled the women's field, Norwegian men are having a very public internal fight for glory, Lisa Theresa Hauser has a podium and Russia as well whereas France was as charmingly unpredictable as ever.
- Tiril Eckhoff is on a roll
After starting the season poorly and disinterested at the Season-Opening in Kontiolahti, Tiril Eckhoff switched gears. After a double in Oberhof Week 1, she now has five wins to her name, her skiing is as good as it has ever been and her shooting is on par with that of Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Hanna Oeberg, her main rivals to win the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score standings. Many small puzzles need to fall into place for her to win the Total Score, but Eckhoff won a very important psychological battle when she withstood the attacks of Olsbu Roeiseland and won the pursuit by using very smart tactical biathlon. Moreover, out of 11 competitions this season, Eckhoff won or finished second seven times; she won four out of the last five competitions and was second once. This also means that any result worse than the podium for Eckhoff, Olsbu Roeiseland or Hanna Oeberg could be a costly slip.
- The men’s Total Score fight became an all-Norwegian affair
JT Boe, Tarjei Boe, Sturla Holm Laegreid and Johannes Dale shared all six available individual podium positions in Oberhof Week 1 among themselves and largely made the battle for the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score title an all-Norwegian affair. Laegreid was third and first, Tarjei second and third (after missing the first three shots in the last standing shooting in the pursuit despite a commanding lead and 15/15 after four loops), JT won the sprint and Dale came in second in the pursuit. JT’s unsteady shooting, illustrated by seven misses in the pursuit, was coupled with his renowned dominance on the skis, for JT was phenomenally fast in both competitions. Laegreid knows he needs to get all the targets to win, and he is very capable of doing that with 94% shooting accuracy. Tarjei and Dale have a stable combination but an unfortunate timing of misses that could keep them from winning more often, and it will be wins and podiums that decide the winner. In this battle of minimal margins, even JT has no more room for mistakes.
- Lisa Theresa Hauser can be on the podium (regularly)
Just as Biathlonworld predicted, Lisa Theresa Hauser of Austria won her first-ever podium in 2020/2021: it happened in the Oberhof sprint 1. Hauser added to that highly valuable acquisition a day later with another stellar performance in the pursuit, where only Tiril Eckhoff and Marte Olsbu Roeiseland were faster. Hauser shot 28/30 in the first two competitions in Oberhof and finally added very accurate shooting to her much-improved skiing speed, which she attributed to fresh input from the two new coaches on the Austrian team. At 27, Hauser seems to be just starting to put her full potential to work.
After she cleared her career’s first podium hurdle, she can look even higher now, for she will be among the medal candidates at the IBU World Championships 2021 as well.
- Team Russia started to find their form in Oberhof Week 1
Eduard Latypov skied smartly to anchor the Russian mixed relay team to a win in Oberhof. He was tactically better in the last loop than Sturla Holm Laegreid and Quentin Fillon Maillet, very prominent competitors who each already have an individual win this season and have been members of winning relays on numerous occasions. Before a very prestigious win, Evgeniya Pavlova finished sixth in the sprint for the first individual flower finish for Russia in the 2020/2021 season, after which Svetlana Mironova went two better and finished fourth in the pursuit. The men still need to find better form individually, and what is worrying is the lack of ski speed from Alexander Loginov.
- The French are still missing day-in, day-out consistency
Fabien Claude, who was eighth in the sprint and fourth in the pursuit, was the most consistent French athlete in a week without individual French podiums in Oberhof. Julia Simon was fourth and among the fastest in the sprint but missed six times in the pursuit, while Anais Chevalier-Bouchet came in 10th in the sprint and fifth in the pursuit. Simon and Emilien Jacquelin were brilliant in the single mixed relay with just three spare rounds and a convincing win, but it was a visible drop in Quentin Fillon Maillet’s form that was really worrying. He missed four times and forgot to ski one penalty loop in the sprint and then burned out in the mixed relay finish after leaving the last shooting stage first, with an almost eight-second lead. France had a successful debutant at the World Cup level in Emilien Claude, who is still a junior and the brother of Fabien, who competes for France, and Florent, who competes for Belgium. He shot 10/10 in the sprint and finished a very respectable 33rd.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni