IBU OECH return to Minsk: Power Teams battle for titles
The IBU Open European Championships return to Minsk’s Raubichi Sports Complex this week after being relocated from Otepää Estonia, due to the lack of snow at the Estonian venue. With this change, Raubichi will host its third major event (2019 IBU OECH and 2019 IBU SBWCH) in less than a year, giving the Belarusian venue another “warm-up” event before hosting a BMW IBU World Cup next season.
Russia, Norway and Germany
Last year, the IBU OECH came just prior to the IBU World Championships; thus several of the big names used the competitions as a test/final preparation. Coming on the heels of the big Championships this year, the competitions will be a bit less star-studded, but will have some big World Cup names and the IBU Cup stars from biathlon power nations like Russia, Norway, and Germany. Of course, the home team Belarus will field its top team, hoping to replicated or better its three medals from 2019.
Weather Conditions Modify Schedule; Super Sprint Kickoff
This year’s competition schedule has been modified, due to limited, but adequate snow coverage. Even with the weather working against them, the organizers have worked hard to get several loops and the stadium covered with stored snow, while making snow every moment the temperature drops below freezing. Still, with the longest available loop of 2.5 km, the traditional individual competitions have been replaced with super sprints that will kick off the 2020 IBU OECH tomorrow. They will be followed by single and mixed relays on the 27th and the traditional sprint/pursuit program on the weekend. With basically short loops in every competition, ski speed and ski preparation will be a crucial issues every day. Good skis for the probable above freezing conditions on athletes who shoot well after hard, short loops will be the path to the podium.
Focus on IBU Cup Total Score
Most of the major players from the IBU Cup circuit will be on the starting line this week, since the IBU Cup season will conclude next week on the same venue with all six individual competitions in Belarus counting towards the IBU Cup Total Score. Those two battles will be the focus in each of the Championship competitions. However, the Women’s and Men’s IBU Cup Super Sprint and IBU Cup Mixed Relay titlists will be determined this week.
Top Five IBU Cup Women
The top five in the Women’s IBU Cup Total Score are all entered in the IBU OECH. Currently, Russian teammates Ekaterina Glazyrina and Anastasiia Porshneva are 1-2 at 512 and 458 points respectively. Sweden’s Elisabeth Hoegberg is third at 421 points. Glazyrina has not competed since her 4th place in the Feb. 8 Martell sprint, while Porshneva was far from her top form two weeks in Martell, with 41st in the pursuit and 31st in the sprint. On the other hand, Hoegberg after some illness took both the sprint and pursuit in Martell. Although the Swedish veteran has only competed in 9 IBU Cup competitions this season, because she started in three BMW IBU World Cups. Still, she has been victorious in four of those nine IBU Cup starts. Coming off the Martell wins where she hit 29 of her 30 targets in the sprint/pursuit, Hoegberg is a favorite to pick up some medals.
Olena Pidhrushna, Synnøve Solemdal
Yet, there is a complicating factor here: the World Cup athletes who are coming to Minsk. IBU Women’s Relay World Champion Synnøve Solemdal is on the Norwegian roster. Then there are the Ukrainian women; their whole IBU WCH Relay Bronze medal team is scheduled to compete. Olena Pidhrushna, with big 4th place in the IBU WCH sprint could add an IBU OECH title to her resume. Yulia Dzhima second in the Östersund 15 km individual, shot clean there, is capable of that any day which would put here in the medal mix. Yuliia Zhuravok was on the podium in Martell and is always a medal threat when she shoots well.
Endre Stroemsheim and Lukas Fratzcher
As for the men, the top five in the IBU Cup Total Score are scheduled to compete. Here the big battle is between Norway’s Endre Stroemsheim and Germany’s Lukas Fratzscher at 595 and 593 points respectively. The Norwegian has three wins this season while his German rival has just one is the opening Sjusjøen sprint. Both have consistently been in the top 10 with the Norwegian just a bit better. Recent to the IBU Cup is Norway’s Lars Helge Birkeland, in the past he was Norway’s World Cup Relay leadoff leg. Birkeland has made a splash in the IBU Cup with three wins and two second places in just nine starts. His calling card is simply consistent shooting
World Cup Men
Andrejs Rastorgujevs, the 2018 IBU OECH Sprint Gold medalist, 2019 IBU Pursuit World Champion Dmytro Pidruchnyi and multi-IBU SBWCH Gold medalist Martin Otcenas of Slovakia with a career best 13th place in the WCH sprint will challenge the IBU Cup regulars for podium places. The hard-fought battles for the men’s medals could be the highlight this week at Raubichi.
Irina Kryuko and the Home Team
Last but not least is the home team from Belarus who won three medals last year; Irina Kryuko won two of those medals. The Olympic Relay Gold medalist has not been that sharp all season yet has shot well, in the 85% range. Home field advantage could lift her to a medal and maybe help secure a team medal in one of the mixed relays. The men had a great relay in Ruhpolding and showed that they do have the ability to compete at the top. They will surely try their hardest to give the home crowd, family and friends something to cheer about.
Regardless of who shows up in Minsk in top form, these IBU OECH will be an exciting affair with surely some surprise medalists.
All competitions from Minsk this week will be streamed live on our website, www.biathonworld.com and on many of the regular television outlets. The competition schedule follows (all times CET):
11:00 Men’s Super Sprint Qualifying
13:00 Women’s Super Sprint Qualifying
15:30 Men’s Super Sprint Final
16:00 Women’s Super Sprint Final
12:00 Single Mixed Relay
15:00 Mixed Relay
10:30 Men 10 km Sprint
13:30 Women 7.5 km Sprint
10:30 Men 12.5 km Pursuit
12:30 Women 10 km Pursuit