Discipline Innovations at the IBU Cup
In the past few years, the IBU Cup became a true in-house laboratory, where new competitions and formats were tested. In the season 2017/2018, the athletes first took on the super sprint, while the next IBU Cup season witnessed the introduction of three other formats: short individual, mixed relays with alternated genders and the mass start 60.
Not only do such innovations bring in more excitement and entertainment to biathlon, but they also make the competitive process brighter, allowing more names to be on top. The results of the previous season are the perfect showcase: In total, 33 men and 32 women reached the podium in twenty IBU Cup individual competitions, with 21 different athletes on the podium in the two super sprints, mass start 60 and short individual.
Shoot Fast, Run Faster
Among the new disciplines, the super sprint was tested first at the IBU Cup season finale in March 2018, with the subsequent evaluation of the IBU Technical Committee. Taking into account team recommendations and with a will to present the best possible format, the original rules were slightly changed. Compared to the previous set-up, the overall distance in the super sprint qualification and final was extended to a maximum of 3 km and 5 km respectively, while the number of the spare rounds was reduced to only one per shooting bout.
Many athletes admit that this short format is fun, but at the same time, it is challenging and not as easy as it may seem. Victoria Slivko, the winner of the last season’s IBU Cup Total Score, tried out all the new disciplines and formats. The Russian reveals that she likes all the innovations but the super sprint the most as this competition is quite exciting and unpredictable.
Former German biathlete and Olympic champion Peter Sendel, who is now coaching the women’s IBU Cup team, also sees the benefits in the disciplines.
Competition Program Flexibility
At the same time, some formats, such as the short individual, are introduced to withstand extreme weather conditions and give flexibility to the competition program. The short individual differs from the traditional competition by length and penalty time: in the men’s individual, the distance is shortened to 15 km and to 12.5 km in the women’s competition, while the penalty time is reduced to 45 seconds for both men and women.
After winning the first short individual, which was held in January 2019 at the IBU Cup in Arber, Yuliia Zhuravok of Ukraine admitted:
Three weeks later, on 7 February 2019, her words proved true at the BMW IBU World Cup in Canmore, when the short individual became an essential alternative in the extremely cold temperatures. It saved the competition day, receiving positive feedback from Johannes Thingnes Boe, who took the first World Cup short individual title.
The mixed relays with alternated genders, where men start the competition and women finish it, were added at all three levels last season. As one of the female anchors in this new format, Slivko admitted that she felt responsible and was quite nervous before the mixed relay at the IBU Cup in Lenzerheide. After crossing the finish line in first place, the Russian noted that the format is very interesting and it definitely has to stay in the competition program.
Evaluating competitions with alternating genders from the technical side, IBU Sports Director Felix Bitterling states that everything worked well; nevertheless, there can be a change in the mixed relay if approved by the Congress, “We propose to use the same loop by both genders in the mixed relay. It means that if women start the competition, then men will also use the 2.0 km lap; if men start first, then 2.5 km loop is used on all legs. This change should help to avoid a tricky situation with the lapping athletes facing two different courses.”
Skeptical at the Beginning
The introduction of the third new format, the mass start 60, took place during the final IBU Cup season 2018/2019 day in Martell. The main advantage of this discipline is that it allows the large field of biathletes in the second and third leagues to gain more experience, particularly in contact competitions. Despite the fears of some teams that something could go wrong during the test with so many athletes starting simultaneously, according to Sendel, everything went well, “As we could see in Martell, the mass start 60 worked very well and I think it is also a perfect opportunity to have the IBU Cup Mass Start Score in the future.”
Bitterling admits that teams do not always take to new implementations initially but quite often they change their mind later on, “As it is with all new formats, athletes and coaches were a bit skeptical at the beginning. Nevertheless, after the tests, we received positive feedback. The teams could see the benefits, for example, as it was with the short individual competition at the World Cup in Canmore.” That is the main idea of the tests, which allow the subsequent changes: to present the most interesting and convenient formats for the athletes.
Gain More Experience
In the upcoming season, two super sprints, two short individuals and two mass starts 60 are scheduled in the IBU Cup competition program. The Juniors will get a chance to test the super sprint competition, while mixed relays with alternating genders will be held at all three levels.
The IBU Sports Director explains the schedule:
“Nevertheless, after successful tests, it is for sure possible to see these disciplines also at the WC events from time to time. The biathlon sport has to be developed further constantly. The key is to find the right balance of traditional formats, which have made biathlon so successful, and new formats, which might be important for the future success of the sport as well.”
Photos: IBU archive