Hochfilzen 2017: Event-by-Event, Who Will Win?
The IBU World Championships are the highlight of every non-Olympic year; the one set of competitions that most biathletes make their number one goal. Winning an IBU World Championships medal can be a career-fulfilling achievement for many athletes. For some very special athletes like Ole Einar Björndalen or Martin Fourcade, WCH medals add ever-more substance to their legendary careers.
Last year, Fourcade, Björndalen, Laura Dahlmeier, and Marie Dorin Habert scooped up the most medals last year in Oslo. Dorin Habert won six, Fourcade five with Björndalen and Dahlmeier each claiming four. Now, everyone is at zero for 2017; the new count begins at Hochfilzen 2017 with the February 9 mixed relay.
We have looked at many of the top individuals in recent days; here is an event-by-event breakdown and analysis
2016 Recap—Gold: France; Silver: Germany; Bronze: Norway
The mixed relay has gone from afterthought to one of the darling competitions; a great warm-up and a chance for all of the big names to make a point before the sprint/pursuit.
Everyone wants to win a mixed relay medal. France remains the favorite with Fourcade, Dorin Habert, possibly Anais Chevalier and Quentin Fillon Maillet. This is a case of: tag Fourcade close to the lead and it is all over. Germany needs Dahlmeier and Schempp on their team, plus any of several men or women. They can scare France, but will be hard-pressed to top them. Norway may be struggle unless Tiril Eckhoff and Marte Olsbu round into form; Johannes Thingnes Boe and Emil Hegle Svendsen would give them a chance. Podium chasers could easily be Czech Republic and Ukraine or Italy.
2016 Recap Men—Gold: Martin Fourcade; Silver: Ole Einar Björndalen; Bronze: Sergey Semenov The sprints are the opening round of “real” competitions after the mixed relay appetizer. They go off on the first Friday and Saturday, followed by pursuits on Sunday. All of the big names consider the sprint the “Champagne” of victories. This year, the favorite is obvious, as it will be in many of the men’s competitions, Fourcade. He has won four of the five contested so far, shooting clean in three with a single penalty in the other. He is the fastest of the men and shoots well under pressure. Behind him, Julian Eberhard, although inconsistent on the range, especially in standing won in Oberhof, and was second in Ruhpolding. He has the wheels to scare even Fourcade and win his first WCH medal. Beyond these two, there are Fourcade’s main rivals, Emil Hegle Svendsen, Simon Schempp and Anton Shipulin. If these three and Eberhard all shoot clean, it will be a battle…for second place! Wild card is the come backing Johannes Thingnes Boe.
*Women—Gold: Tiril Eckhoff; Silver: Marie Dorin Habert; Bronze: Laura Dahlmeier *
Eckhoff has struggled all season, so it is most likely that she will not repeat as sprint World Champion. The five sprint winners this season all could make a case for WCH Gold: Dahlmeier, Dorin Habert, Gabriela Koukalová, Tatiana Akimova, and Kaisa Mäkäräinen. Based on pure sprint speed, give it to Mäkäräinen; on shooting, either Dahlmeier or Koukalová. On pure doing something no-one expected, it goes to Dorin Habert. Then there is Akimova who has the nice blend, but not much experience in the high-pressure WCH. Koukalová is generally the steadiest of shots and her ski speed has been good all season, while Mäkäräinen can be hot/cold on the range. This might be the year for the Yellow Bib; Koukalová is on the upswing, so watch her go after the lady in Yellow.
2016 Recap Men—Gold: Martin Fourcade; Silver: Ole Einar Björndalen; Bronze: Emil Hegle Svendsen
The pursuit is one of those competitions where the it’s biathlon so anything can happen applies. Shoot poorly in prone, meaning two penalties and usually the podium is gone. Then there are the two standing stages, a penalty in the first is an issue but no big deal. The medals usually are determined in the final standing stage; think Fourcade/Shipulin in Pokljuka: Fourcade cleaned and Shipulin went to the loop, story over! Beyond Fourcade, the number two pursuer is Svendsen. He has been on the podium, has a big heart full of fight. Shipulin is a fan of the mass start. Never a sure bet, but these three are as good as it gets.
2016 Recap Women—Gold: Laura Dahlmeier; Silver: Dorothea Wierer; Bronze: Marie Dorin Habert
Mäkäräinen leads the Pursuit Cup Total Score and was the 2017 IBU Summer Biathlon World Champion, so just mail her the medal and get it over with! Actually, this is probably her best competition. Her ski speed, actually her ability to change gears even at the “advanced” of 34 is very special. That ability to blow away or come from behind in the last loop gives her the Gold medal nod. Dorin Habert will miss some shots, but can also fly; two penalties in Oberhof and she still won. Koukalová has a win and two second places plus a 26th place disaster in Pokljuka. Her cautious shooting, especially in prone is made for the pursuit. She will be the woman to take advantage when someone else has one penalty too many. Wierer is on the outside looking in this season, but has two podiums.
2016 Recap Men—Gold: Martin Fourcade; Silver: Dominik Landertinger; Bronze: Simon Eder
Only two 20K individuals so far this season; Fourcade won in Östersund and Shipulin in Antholz with Fourcade second. Broken record; but the almost-unstoppable resident of Villard de Lans is the man to beat. He knows how to pace, and conserve energy when necessary, like last year in Oslo. The 20K fits his shooting style: calm, cautious and mostly accurate; not much flusters Martin. With one win under his belt, Shipulin could be gathering a medal here. With the moderately high tracks in Hochfilzen, it might feel a bit like Antholz…and Shipulin is the “King of Antholz,” with those five wins. After these two, the next person with a good chance for the podium is Björndalen. He was fifth in Sweden and fourth in Antholz. He still can shoot the lights out and his ski speed may not be what it was ten years ago. A medal for Ole might be in the classic biathlon competition. Wild card may be the 2010 Olympic Champion Svendsen, if he chooses to compete.
2016 Recap Women—Gold: Marie Dorin Habert: Silver: Anais Bescond; Bronze: Laura Dahlmeier
Dahlmeier has won both 15K individuals this season, with two penalties each time. The Yellow Bib had her best summer of training in several years, with no interruptions. The Hochfilzen tracks are far from easy, but should be no big deal for Dahlmeier. Her skiing is good enough to give away a penalty or two. Dorin Habert’s teammate Anais Chevalier is a rock-solid shot; not the fastest on the tracks but that is okay. This may be her best shot for a medal. Several others might contend, but another German like Maren Hammerschmidt or Franziska Hildebrand coming through with a medal. There always is Wierer, who won the small globe last season…
2016 Recap Men—Gold: Norway; Silver: Germany; Bronze: Canada
Germany, Russia and France each have a win this season. Norway has never put their “A” team on the starting line but have two podiums. The Russians have not won but have been on the podium in all three relays. The Germans have been consistent, won in Antholz and could benefit from a very pro-German crowd in Hochfilzen. France depends on Fourcade, but loves the relays, so look for them to be at their best. The perfect scenario would see Fourcade, Svendsen, Shipulin and Schempp side-by-side in the final standing stage. Try predicting that finish! Those look like the best teams if they show up with their best four! Final note: the men’s relay could be a good medal shot for the home team, Austria, a long shot but not impossible
2016 Recap Women—Gold: Norway; Silver: France; Bronze: Germany
This one is easy: give the Gold medals to Germany. They have been unstoppable and pretty much unchallenged. France has been second three times, so send the Silver medals over to their hotel; solid team, good shots and Marie on the anchor leg is all it will take. Ukraine is also a great relay nation, in Sochi Gold. They now have the little dynamo, Anastasiya Merkushyna on their squad plus Valja Semerenko again; this team of fighters will get a medal, but it will be a tussle. Norway may not win Gold, but they will battle for the podium; lots of pride in their team. The wild card is Italy with Doro on the anchor.
2016 Recap Men—Gold: Johannes Thingnes Boe; Silver: Martin Fourcade; Bronze: Ole Einar Björndalen
After his heroics in the Antholz mass start, the younger Boe brother has the upper hand in the “Stop Martin” campaign. If he shoots as fast and as accurately as everyone has seen him do before, Boe will repeat as the mass Start World Champion. In this case, Fourcade is the underdog; he is human and knows his way around the penalty loop. He would surely like to avenge last year’s loss to the Norwegian. Clean shooting will mean a track battle, foot race; Fourcade might find himself looking at the red-haired Norwegian’s back again. Schempp leads the mass start cup going into this IBU WCH, with a win, a second and seventh. He will have to battle Svendsen, Shipulin and maybe the outside shot, Dominik Windisch.
2016 Recap Women—Gold: Marie Dorin Habert; Silver: Laura Dahlmeier; Bronze: Kaisa Mäkäräinen
Two victories and a second place this season means there could be two red-haired mass start World Champions. The flaming-haired Czech star Koukalová is in the driver’s seat. Koukalová hit 57-of-60 shots in those three competitions. A clean-shooting day and inspiration/taking advantage like in Nove Mesto gives her the Gold. Dahlmeier is hot on her heels in the mass start cup; they have battled before. If this turns into a sprint, then it is Dahlmeier. However, if a certain native of Finland is close, then both are in trouble, Mäkäräinen’s flying skis will make them look like they are walking! Justine Braisaz or Lisa Theresa Hauser could come out with their special skills to grab a medal.
Despite all of these medal candidates, nothing is assured. Some of these favorites will flame out; some will medal but will miss Gold…and as always, there will be one or two huge surprises! Get ready for a wild ride!