Out of the Oberhof Fog: Martin, Anastasiya and Sweden
The past weekend was typical Oberhof with wild weather, some less-than-surprising results from the Yellow Bibs, and the usual returns to form and surprises after the holiday break.
The saying goes, “It is always sunny in…” but almost never in Oberhof. That held true with the usual snow, rain, wind, mist, low hanging clouds that drop in as dense fog. As Martin Fourcade stated, “I have competed 25 times here and 24 of those have been just like today.” So everyone knows what to expect, and as another adage goes, “Champions adjust;” that is exactly what the Yellow Bibs, Fourcade and Anastasiya Kuzmina did. They both won twice. Same can be said for the French women and Swedish men who won the weather (and mental) battles, getting historic relay wins.
Fourcade and the Norwegians
Before the Christmas break, Johannes Thingnes Boe had the upper hand against Fourcade. However, as the year turned to 2018, Johannes was trying some new “tricks,” like shooting faster in prone! Think about that, since he is generally never a turtle on the range. Meanwhile, the French star continued what he was doing: focus, eliminate mistakes, hit the targets and try to get as fast as his young Norwegian foe. In the last three competitions, Fourcade hit 49-of-50 targets and won three times. He hit the mark on the focus, mistakes and targets; Johannes is still faster, so this duel will continue. Fourcade’s strength and focus versus Johannes’ speed and potential and a good week for both.
The second part of the men’s competitions in Oberhof included Emil Hegle Svendsen and Tarjei Boe. Svendsen did well after his illness-forced break, regaining his “game face,” with a sprint second place and fourth in the pursuit. The missed time showed up when he ran out of gas in the last stages of the pursuit. Tarjei also had another nice weekend: fifth in the sprint and shooting clean in the pursuit, for third place. The strong start to 2018 bodes well for the Norwegian team.
Hofer, Fak and…
Beyond these four men, Lukas Hofer led the chasers, with fourth in the sprint and sixth in the pursuit, plus second in the relay; just a couple of missed shots kept him from the podium. Jakov Fak showed a bit of rust on the skis, but still shot 29-of-30; holding on to his third place in the Total Score. Benjamin Weger, eight in the sprint and seventh in the pursuit showed continued progress from last month. Like Hofer, an individual podium gets closer each week. The biggest disappointments came from the Germans and Russians; Arnd Peiffer was the German “bright” spot with 12th and 10th places, while Anton Shipulin despite 19-of-20 in the pursuit seems far from the top three.
Kuzmina Rolls On
The story/non-story for the women was the continued domination of Kuzmina, who so far is having a career season, further extending her lead in the World Cup Total Score.
She was the fastest in the sprint, burying the always fast Kaisa Mäkäräinen by 35.4 seconds. 90% shooting was enough to claim two more wins. Like Fourcade, Kuzmina focused and adjusted to the not-so-easy conditions; those special qualities of champions, especially in hard conditions like Oberhof presented. The comebacks in Oberhof came from Dorothea Wierer back after December illness with the 14-position jump to second in the pursuit, and Weronika Nowakowska, returning after a maternity leave, with sixth and fourth in the sprint/pursuit. The non-comeback of sorts was Laura Dahlmeier, also sick over the holidays, solid (90%) on the shooting range, but a bit off on the tracks.
Vitkova: Oberhof Podium Number 4
The women’s surprise was in the form of Veronika Vitkova, third in the sprint for her fourth Oberhof podium, her first individual podium in three years. Franziska Hildebrand had her best sprint/pursuit of the year and seems on an upswing. Beyond these two, Justine Braisaz was steady; same for the consistent Mäkäräinen. Darya Domracheva was quick on her skis once again, but two penalties in both the sprint and pursuit were costly.
Foggy, Spare Round, Penalty-filled Relay Madness
All of the crazy Oberhof weather showed up for the relays, simply creating havoc and disappointment for the cheering, enthusiastic Oberhof fans.
The blustery wind did not seem to bother the French women on their way to the win. Sans their defacto leader Marie Dorin Habert, they showed the heart of champions, upsetting the German women who were obviously without Dahlmeier. The German’s relay winning streak ended with the anchor leg Maren Hammerschmidt’s penalty and Justine Braisaz’s three-spare clean stage. The French team was hot right from the start with Anais Bescond’s strong leadoff leg, Celia Aymonier’s blistering ski speed and closing the youthful Braisaz. The Swedish women and their eight spares were just good enough to make the podium for the first time in ages. The Italians still have medal potential but the absence of Alexia Runggaldier was glaring in their sixth place finish after leading early.
The fog driven 156 penalty loops tell the story of the men’s relay. Jesper Nelin of the winning Swedish team commented, “In prone, I could not see anything; it was like looking at a wall…I had no idea where I was aiming.” Dominik Windisch who shot 10-for-10 on the second place Italian team admitted, “I really did not see the targets close…” Sweden won for the first time since 2009 and Italy almost repeated their 2012 Oberhof win; the meltdown of rookie Thierry Chenal under intense pressure did his best, so no blame on him personally. The Norwegian and German men showed their soft spots; if you do not field your top team, victory will not happen. The German sixth place, with ten… penalties probably brought tears and some embarrassment to many a German fan! All credit to the Swedish team and Coach Wolfgang Pichler!
Now it is out of the fog and on to Ruhpolding; it is quite likely that the targets will be much clearer this week and the competition will be just as intense and exciting!