IBU WCH Debut for Well-known Names
For most teams, the IBU World Championships are the main focus of the season. Therefore it is no wonder they purposefully prepare for the event to approach it in the best condition with the strongest squads. Every year, among the main contenders and experienced athletes with many WCH starts in their career, there are always some names who appear at the season's main event for the first time.
Seven Penalty Loops
Despite debuting at the WCHs, some of the athletes already have World Cup podiums and even Olympic Game experience on their resume. Being on the circuit for many years and competing at the last Olympics, France’s Antonin Guigonnat has never started at the IBU World Champs. He came to Östersund in good shape but not with the best memories of the venue, where he had his World Cup debut. He remembers with the smile, “I competed at this track just once, at the World Cup in 2015 and it was not a good experience. In the Individual I started with bib 6 in very snowy and slow conditions, so there was no chance for me to do well. After, in the sprint, it was very windy and I hit only 3 out of 10 targets! 7 penalty loops... it was a nightmare! So my memories from here are not that good but in these 4 years I for sure have improved!”
Showing strong results and having his best season with three individual and three relay podiums, Guigonnat admits that he has no specific goals and will take any result, no matter what. “I have no goals here in term of places, at the same time, I have no limits because I think I can do both: win or be far away with a lot of misses...”
All or Nothing
His teammate Emilien Jacquelin, who also had his World Cup debut in Östersund, admits that this place is special for him. “I competed here last year and I have good memories because it was great to battle with the guys I saw on TV before.”
With a wide smile on his face, he adds, “I remember my last shooting; I was there with Benedikt Doll and Simon Schempp; conditions at the range were calm but for me it was as windy as never!” For the young French athlete, who has two World Cup relay podiums this season, the WCH goals are very precise. “Here, it is the same for me as it was last year in Antholz, where we had the final Olympic Games team qualification, it was all or nothing!”
In her first complete senior season and after last year’s Olympic experience, Czech junior Marketa Davidova proves to be very strong. Starting the year with her first senior podium in Pokljuka, she has been on the World Cup podium four more times, including her first sprint win in Antholz. After such impressive results, the young Czech biathlete admits despite these WCH being her first, she is taking them as normal starts without any pressure. Her most important goal is to shoot well, especially at this tricky range, which can be quite windy and challenging.
As for Davidova, the WCH start at the Östersund stadium will also be a new experience for the Olympic Women’s Relay Champion Dzinara Alimbekava of Belarus. After the Open European Championships at home in Minsk-Raubichi, one of the highlights for the Belarussian team, the competitions in Östersund are the second main event this season.
“As these events were the most important for us, we intentionally prepared for these competitions. But before competing at home, I got sick, and the form was imperfect. Therefore, I hope that here I will be able to show my maximum and best result.” Continuing, she added, “Recently, I have made a lot of mistakes at the shooting range and really want to be more accurate. In combination with my current speed, it can give me a possibility to qualify to the mass start.”
Used to Race Here
Unlike his rivals, Norway’s Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen is quite familiar with the track, although it will also be his first WCH experience, “Luckily, my first World Champs are here in Östersund and we are pretty used to racing here. Moreover, my first World Cup as a junior was on this venue but I started it with a first missed shot. And that is everything I remember: the first shot at World Cup was a miss and it was here…” Leaving this mistake in the past, Christiansen is positive about the upcoming competitions: “I think the track suits me good especially with these cold conditions. So I really hope to show my best.”
With the mixed relay kicking off the 2019 IBU World Championships tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if the athletes will match their expectations and whether they will have good memories about their first WCHs.
Photos: IBU/Evgeny Tumashov