Can Oeberg win the battle of margins?
In the fast-paced roller coaster of events at the IBU World Championships 2020 in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy, Hanna Oeberg lived through nearly all the emotional states one can imagine. The stakes were high and her ambition was burning hot, for she was not only fighting for the medals but also to win the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score standings. Every competition was a hard-earned lesson. What will she need to do better to win the Total Score in the 2020/2021 season?
Top-down career in her first four years at the BMW IBU World Cup level
When Hanna Oeberg finished the 2018/2019 season with flying colours by winning the mass start at Oslo-Holmenkollen, she reflected on her still very short and young career, blessed with gold medals in the individual at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 and the IBU World Championships Oestersund 2019.
“Last season I was focused on the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018. This season I was focused on the home IBU World Championships in Oestersund, for I knew it would be a once-in-a-career opportunity to compete at home and win a gold medal. Next season will be the first where I will be fully focused on the BMW IBU World Cup. I want to see how good a biathlete I can be and stay healthy for as many weeks as possible,” said Oeberg, before adding an interesting insight. “My lowest level of performance is pretty high now. There were not many competitions where I was not satisfied. I have been really consistent this season and this is something I am the most proud of.”
At the end of the 2018/2019 season, data provided by Siwidata showed that Oeberg won 37 points per competition, more than any other woman. There was an important twist to that data though, as the Swede missed too many weeks to be competitive in what was ultimately an all-Italian battle of nerves between Dorothea Wierer and Lisa Vittozzi:
1. Oeberg was ill at the start of the season in Pokljuka, where she missed the sprint and pursuit competitions.
- Sweden’s coach Wolfgang Pichler, whom we wish the best of health and a speedy recovery from recent heart problems, made the decision for the Swedish team not to travel to the BMW IBU World Cup stops in Canmore, Canada and Soldier Hollow, USA, but rather to stay at home, train and do a final check before the Oestersund 2019 World Championships at the IBU Open European Championships in Minsk-Raubichi, Belarus.
Oeberg finished fifth in the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score standings in the 2018/2019 season (compared to 38th in 2017/2018 and 46th in 2016/2017), 164 points behind the winner Wierer. She had the strongest final trimester, winning 45.2 points per competition. Her shooting percentage accuracy was at 86% (89% in prone and 84% in standing) and her skiing was 2% faster than the average.
The 2019/2020 season was the first one with her focus on the World Cup Total Score
Oeberg started the 2019/2020 season with a much-improved ski speed compared to the season(s) before, as well as with a more aggressive approach on the shooting range. She tried to adapt her shooting cadence depending on the developments in the competition and her position in the standings at the time of the shooting, always with a place on the podium, even a win, on her mind. These were surely the right tactics if she was to contend for the World CupTotal Score, but it remained to be seen how it would work out over four months of constantly changing conditions and swinging fortunes and biorhythms.
After a lukewarm start in Oestersund by her standards, 1th in the sprint and 10th in the individual, Oeberg’s form picked up in Hochfilzen, where she finished fifth in the sprint and second in the pursuit. looking very much on track to challenge Wierer and Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold in positions one and two. Annecy-Le Grand Bornand brought warm weather, soft snow, rain and a cold to Oeberg. In a week when Tiril Eckhoff hit the form of a lifetime, Tandrevold wore yellow for a day and Wierer fought as only true champions do, Oeberg’s stamina started to wane visibly; she finished 14th in the sprint and stayed in bed during the pursuit and mass start. It was just a remote threat at that time, but the coronavirus pandemic was edging closer to Europe, and any missed week would prove (too) costly in the end.
Oeberg had a very good Trimester 2 with a third-place finish in the Ruhpolding pursuit, two second-place finishes in the Ruhpolding sprint and the Pokljuka individual and a win in the Pokljuka mass start. She was shooting with 87% accuracy and skiing as fast as anybody but Eckhoff, who looked invincible in the period between the Hochfilzen pursuit and the beginning of the Pokljuka programme, where she also caught a mild cold. Before the Antholz 2020 sprint, Eckhoff had 524 points (523 if the two worst results were scratched), Wierer 509 (472 if the two worst results were scratched) and Oeberg 456 (she had already missed two competitions in Annecy).
Unlucky timing of standing misses in Antholz 2020
Oeberg finished a disappointing 18th in the sprint; she was in an excellent position after 5/5 in the prone but missed three in the standing. She went 10/10 in the prone in the pursuit but missed two in the first standing when the fight for medals, including gold, was wide open; she finished fourth. She wanted to double down on her individual gold from Oestersund and had the gold within reach, only to miss the deciding shot in the standing (and one in the first prone). She was bitterly disappointed.
“I love occasions like today; I want to compete to win at the biggest events and that is why I am disappointed today,” said Oeberg.
She did win a bronze medal in the mass start and perspective on what monumental achievements her gold medals in the individual in Pyeongchang 2018 and Oestersund 2019 are. Still, she had 613 points after Antholz and was only trailing Wierer, who had 719 (682 if the two worst results were scratched) in first place.
Oeberg kept her chances alive in NMNM, where she finished sixth in the sprint and second in the mass start; her shooting was at 93% accuracy. Before the BMW IBU World Cup 8 in Kontiolahti, Finland, Wierer had 776 points (739 if the two worst results were scratched), Eckhoff 707 and Oeberg 705.
She just wanted to keep focus.
It wasn’t to be.
In the coronavirus-related turmoil in Kontiolahti, Oeberg lost her composure and her shooting accuracy dropped from 93% the week before to a subpar 65%, landing her in 28th and 18th place in the sprint and pursuit. Just like in 2018/2019, she finished the season with 741 points, or 39 points per competition. But she now knows what it’s like to consciously battle for the World Cup Total Score title.