Two for Hochfilzen…Martin and Gabi
**One last look, two Hochfilzen medal contenders were the winners of the World Cup Total Score last season…Martin Fourcade and Gabriela Koukalová.
Martin Fourcade is the big man in biathlon this year, as he has been every year since the 2011-12 season. However this season, he has been the almost unstoppable force, standing atop the podium 10 times (12 including the two relay wins). He owned December, wining everything except the Östersund pursuit. In January, he asserted himself with a pursuit win in Oberhof and the sprint/pursuit combo in Ruhpolding. His worst days this season were the three-penalty days in the 8th place Oberhof sprint and the 5th place Antholz mass start. His lead in the World Cup Total Score is a massive 276 points over second place Anton Shipulin. Fourcade is the master gamesman: sometimes starting fast, sometimes pacing brilliantly, shooting fast and slow and reading his rivals like a novel. Because he is human, the Yellow Bib has those days when the shots stray or he just does not have that last burst of speed, but they are rare. He won the IBU World Championships, literally last year, “running the table” in individual competitions, plus anchoring the mixed relay victory, until winning “only” a Silver medal behind Johannes Thingnes Boe in the mass start. He will show up in Hochfilzen, a man with a mission: very well prepared, with the goal of adding to his collection of Gold medals Shipulin, Boe, Svendsen, Schempp and Co have yet been able to derail the Fourcade Express so far and it is unlikely much will change in the next two weeks. Best chances for medals: everything that he competes in—relays, individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start and possibly a cooking contest if they throw one in!
Gabriela Koukalová wore the Yellow Bib most of last season and World Cup Total Score, but did not win a medal in Oslo. Her best days in the sprint and mass start, resulted in 4th place “chocolate medals.” This year, she has been in Yellow for a while and is currently just 17 points behind Laura Dahlmeier. Yet the flaming redhead is not concerned with Yellow; she emphasized in Ruhpolding that her goal this season is WCH medals, period; end of conversation! Koukalová was good but not great in December, with just one win up to the Nove Mesto mass start. Her skis were flying but the shots were also flying slightly off target. The massive win in front of 35,000 adoring fans in Nove Mesto changed everything. Her only missed podium since then was in the Antholz 15K, 24th with six big penalties. However she came back with a vengeance in the mass start, only two prone penalties, third place, and 8 seconds back. Throwing out the Antholz 15K as an anomaly, she only has missed 8 of 120 shots in the last seven individual competitions. The shooting is back. Her skiing has been excellent all season, so with both pieces back in place, medals should be in her future. This is likely the IBU WCH where she has the Czech fans cheering loudly as she steps on the podium several times. Best chances for medals: sprint, pursuit, mass start.