Head-to-Head Match-ups: Doro vs. Denise, Tiril, Marte and Hanna
The BMW IBU World Cup season is just 8 days away; the hardest training is over and the nerves are starting to show. Dorothea Wierer reigned supreme the last two seasons. She now has a target on her back with at least four women zeroed in on taking her crown. Who will come out on top in their head-to-head battles?
Like the men, there are some givens as the season starts:
1. Three-time BMW IBU World Cup Total Score winner Kaisa Makarainen has retired, taking away a perennial challenger for the top spot.
- The Doro era is here; she won her second consecutive big Crystal Globe and did not retire. Wierer has learned how to retain her personality and lifestyle while controlling her own destiny in pressure cooker situations.
- Marte Olsbu Roiseland , Tiril Eckhoff and Denise Herrmann are the Italian’s biggest rivals. Olsbu Roeiseland was the biggest winner at the IBU World Championships, although Wierer’s star shined brighter; Eckhoff gained confidence and Herrmann unquestionably is the fastest skier in biathlon.
Sprint Face-off: Denise vs. Marte
Hermann closed last season with two big sprint wins, shooting clean in Nove Mesto na Moravě, followed by a single-penalty in snowy Kontiolahti. Those signature wins were just enough for the German to pick up the World Cup Sprint Score and her first-ever small crystal globe over Doro. Above her renowned ski speed, Herrmann knows the real key is shooting, commenting in Finland, “The main important thing was to stay clean or not have many mistakes.” That is what will bring the victories; two strong wins at the German Summer Champs showed that she is still on that good shooting track. In that vein, Herrmann’s weak point remains, generally very slow range times, typical of a less experienced biathlete. Skiing is never an issue for Hermann. Top speed every day is a given. She has improved dramatically and with more experience could easily retain her sprint title while picking up more first places.
The women who stands right in her way and should be the biggest sprint challenger is 2020 IBU World Champion Olsbu Roeiseland. She matched Herrmann with three sprint wins last season, but the Norwegian owns nine sprint podiums to her rival’s four. Shooting can be the real separator here; with Olsbu Roeiseland up at a lofty 84% compared to Herrmann’s career best 77%. The more-experienced Norwegian also shoots faster, gaining valuable seconds. The 29-year-old is no slouch on the tracks, laying claim to the second fastest time in her Antholz Gold medal effort. At the same time, she has this uncanny ability to find a fourth or fifth gear in the last loop of any competition, while some rivals are hanging on for dear life.
In a tight battle, maybe separated by seconds, advantage Herrmann.
Pursuit Challenge: Doro vs. Denise
IBU Pursuit World Champion Dorothea Wierer is the driver’s seat in the pursuit. It is not her specialty, but definitely a very strong point. Tiril Eckhoff won the World Cup Pursuit Score last season on the coattails of her three impressive wins, where she went 58-of-60 on the range. However, she tailed off for various reasons as the season wound down. Wierer on the other hand scored maybe the biggest wins of her career taking the pressure-packed home stadium IBU WCH title. Wierer’s skill set is made for the pursuit; a blindingly-fast shooting cadence and the ability to grind out a steady pace on the tracks. Her 16 career pursuit podiums support her position as the favourite.
The top challenger, besides Eckhoff is easily Hermann, whose track talent is unquestioned and the key to her pursuit potential. This past September, she crushed the German Championships pursuit field, cleaning the first three stages before a single miss in the last standing. With each clean stage, she got faster on the tracks, claiming the win 3:29 ahead of Franziska Preuss. That is what the 31-year-old German can do! Of course, her shooting is nowhere near Wierer, Eckhoff and Co, but when the shooting goes well, even if a bit slow, her potential is enormous. Expect Herrmann to add to her three career pursuit wins this season.
Although Herrmann and Eckhoff could pick up some impressive victories; it remains: advantage Wierer.
Individual Duel: Hanna and Doro
This one is the classic face-off of IBU World Champions, 2019 winner Hanna Oeberg and her successor, 2020 winner Wierer. Despite losing the title, Oeberg made up for it with her first small crystal globe in that discipline. Sweden’s Golden Girl slipped slightly last season after claiming the two biggest medals in the sport, Olympic and IBU WCH Gold within 13 months. Her shooting was down from 91% to 86%; nothing to cry over, but enough to miss a third major title. Expect the Swedish star to come back with fire in her eyes this season after a strong summer and fall, training exclusively in Sweden. Oeberg is superbly talented on both the shooting range and the tracks. Key in this longest biathlon discipline is track strength; the ability to hold a steady even pace in a four-stage competition. Oeberg has 14 career podiums; eleven are in four-stage competitions. This very determined lady will probably come back with a very strong season after a solid summer of focused training at home.
Wierer took the IBU WCH title from Oeberg at home with the same two penalties, but the inspired Italian was quicker on her home course, exactly 42.5 seconds. Wierer is always aggressive on the shooting range; this gives her a bit of an advantage and few seconds of time. Otherwise these two are a pretty close match-up. It will come down to the cagy veteran versus youth with the championship pedigree.
With only three competitions to determine the individual titlist; it is: advantage Oeberg.
Mass Start Triple Face-off: Tiril, Doro and Hanna
Wierer comes in with the 2019/20 World Cup Mass Start Score Crystal globe in her trophy case. Consistency (2nd, 4th, 9th, 2nd, 5th) and completion of all five events ensured the title while her closest rivals, Eckhoff and Oeberg both missed a competition and IBU Mass Start World Champion Olsbu Roeiseland missed two. Consistency is Wierer’s key to success in every competition; controlling the low points and staying in podium contention in every start.
Although Wierer won the big prize, Eckhoff was brilliant last season with wins in Annecy Le Grand Bornand and NMNM and second in Oberhof. Missing the Pokljuka competition cost her the season title. The reality is that Eckhoff despite her ups and downs, has a way above average record in the mass start: two Olympic Winter Games Bronze medals, 2019 IBU WCH Silver medal and nine career podiums. Eckhoff’s weak spot has always been on the shooting range, but she seems to be past that. Her ski speed and dogged determination are a perfect combination for the mass start. If she stays healthy, then every time Eckhoff makes it to the start, she will be the favourite.
Right next to Wierer and Eckhoff is Oeberg, who had a win, plus second and third places last season in her four starts. She is cut from the same mould as her rivals; very competitive and determined. The trio all shot at the same level last season (82%, 81% and 82%). Oeberg might be the one who is the least likely to miss shot number 20.
Watch for a battle royale when every time this group battles in a mass start, but in the end, it is: advantage Eckhoff.
The women’s competitions will be great fun this season with half a dozen talented women all vying for the top spots and crystal trophies from beginning to end. Stay tuned…
Photos. IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov, Petr Slavik