Flashback to IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships
If this year had gone as planned, sans Coronavirus, the 2021 IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships would kick off this week. With their cancellation, here is a flashback to a few selected personalities, highlights, and milestones from past Championships.
It all Started in Hochfilzen…
The first IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships were held on a very hot, wet weekend in Hochfilzen in 1996. The competitions were simple: individual and sprint for men and women, not on rollerskis but cross-country running. The Hochfilzen venue was quite different than it is today; no rollerski tracks, minimal stadium and hand operated targets. Most of the running tracks were set up on the lower meadow that is so prominent today.
The field included many recognizable names from that era including young Ole Einar Bjorndalen and the popular Willi Pallhuber of Italy as well as a strong women’s team from China. Pallhuber claimed the Hochfilzen sprint title, just ahead of Bjoerndalen. The Italian followed up his running success by shooting clean to win the IBU Sprint World Championship the next February in Brezno Osrblie.
First Gold Medal to Alexey Kobelev
The first IBU SBWCH Gold Medal went to two-time World Cup winner Alexey Kobelev in the 6 km individual competition. Kobelev recalled that day. “I remember it was rainy and there were puddles everywhere. The track was rough and it turned into a sloppy mess. At first, all the athletes tried to go around the puddles, but, getting wet, they began to run recklessly right through them. By the finish, I was was dirty from from my heels, up my back to the top of my head. It was so sloppy that on the pre-finish climb Vadim Sashurin lost a shoe in the mud and finished without it.”
The focus on the IBU SBWCH then was about the same as today for most top biathletes. “We did not prepare for the summer championships specifically, but got in shape for it during the summer training; it was a very interesting opportunity to compare our preparedness at the end of summer training with other athletes from other countries.”
After 1996, Kobelev went on to be one of the big summer biathlon stars of the 90’s with sprint Gold, pursuit Silver and relay Gold in 1998, followed by sprint and pursuit Bronze and relay Gold in 1999.
Nazarova Dominates Running Competitions
Olga Nazarova of Belarus was the biggest female star of the early cross-country running IBU SBWCH. Nazarova who had 234 World Cup starts, won 18 IBU SBWCH medals between 2000 and 2005, including an astonishing 10 Gold medals. Her sprint sweep from 2002-04 illustrates her dominance but 2004 adds an exclamation mark. That year in Brezno Osrblie, the Belarusian swept the Championships, taking the sprint, pursuit, mass start and anchoring the winning relay team.
2006 marked the beginning of the IBU SBWCH as they are known today. Both rollerskiing and running competitions were conducted in 2006-09; since that time, all the Championships have been conducted on rollerskis.
The Evolution of Kaisa
Otepaa hosted the 2007 IBU SBWCH; one athlete symbolizes the modernized format: Kaisa Makarainen. Several months before her first-ever BMW IBU World Cup podium in Pokljuka, the then 24-year-old Finn won the sprint/pursuit double. Although those first international medals were not easily won; they were a major stepping off point in her career. Makarainen shot well both days, with a single standing miss in the sprint and a single miss in the pursuit’s final standing stage. Even shooting that well, her victory margins were just one second and .4 seconds, respectively.
Kaisa: Version 2016
The next time Otepaa hosted the IBU SBWCH in 2016, Makarainen showed up for her second SBWCH. Yet the 2016 version of Kaisa was very different from 2007. In the intervening years, she climbed the podium repeatedly and won the IBU World Cup Total Score twice, while becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport. Once again, she walked away with two Gold medals, in the pursuit and mixed relay. After the pursuit which she once again won with a single penalty, she commented, “I am really satisfied with my shooting today; happy that I managed to miss just once.” The mixed relay win echoed how the summer competitions fit into the life of a BMW IBU World Cup star. “It is summer and you never know your opponent’s level at this time. Still, it was a good test…”
No Place Like Home
Over the years, the IBU SBWCH fields have at times been weak and at other times very strong like Oberhof in 2008 when the powerhouse German and Russian teams both competed. Still, summer or winter, there is no place like home.
Italy Dominates in Forni Avoltri
Forni Avoltri, Italy in 2013 is a perfect example: The Italians were at the top of their game in almost every competition, taking the lion’s share of the medals. They started with a mixed relay Silver medal behind Russia. The Italian junior mixed relay then won the Bronze medal, with 18-year-old Lisa Vittozzi running the leadoff leg. On sprint day, a certain Dorothea Wierer had a single standing penalty to claim the Gold medal, with teammate Karin Oberhofer in Bronze.
A couple of hours later, Lukas Hofer made it an Italian sprint sweep, taking the men’s title over Klemen Bauer. Bauer went on to top the speedy Hofer by 9.4 seconds in the pursuit, with Markus Windisch taking the Bronze medal. Just to reinforce the Italian’s love for “home cooking,” Pietro Dutto took the chocolate medal in fourth place.
Cavalcade of Stars
Over the years, a cavalcade of familiar names competed in the IBU SBWCH; those above, plus Martin and Simon Fourcade, Gabriela Koukalová, Anton Shipulin, Magdalena Neuner, Ondřej Moravec, Paulina Fialkova, the Semerenko sisters, Weronika Nowakowska and more. They were all a part of the growth of summer competitions that now includes national championships, invitational show competitions using formats like the super sprint and mass start while throwing in a little fun with shooting duels. The IBU SBWCH may be off the calendar in this strange year, but will return in the future to make more memorable moments in the sunshine.
Photos: IBU/Evgeny Tumashov, Archive; Axelar/ Hans Lie, Martin Fourcade Festival