Watch These Five Ladies plus Wild Cards, at the IBU World Championships
There is high likelihood that the five top ladies in the World Cup Total Score, plus a couple of “wild cards” will be in the medals’ hunt at this week’s IBU World Championships.
As it has been all season, the names to watch are Italian teammates Lisa Vittozzi and Dorothea Wierer, Norway’s Marte Olsbu Røiseland, Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina and 2018 World Cup Total Score titlist Kaisa Mäkäräinen of Finland. The top “wild cards” have to include Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier and the home team favorite, Hanna Oeberg of Sweden. Besides the individual competitions, this group will have a huge effect on their team’s success in the multiple relay competitions.
This group dominated the season right from the start. They have won 13 of the 18 competitions so far this season, racking up 30 podiums among them, plus 28 more results in 4th-6th places.
The 24-year-old Vittozzi comes in wearing the Yellow Bib and the Red Sprint Bib, based on her consistent top six results and lofty 90%+ shooting stats. She truly has been the most improved and most consistent woman in the BMW IBU World Cup season; only three times outside the top 6, with 18th place in the Nove Mesto sprint as her low point. Her season has taken off since the New Year, starting with career win number 1 in the Oberhof sprint, flowed by number 2 in the pursuit. Since then, the newly crowned Yellow Bib has added three more podiums.
“Do My Best”
Shooting obviously has played a big part in her success. There is usually a zero or one next to her name in the results, but that is only part of the story. She has consistently been among the top 10 fastest on the tracks. More important than this, is that the young Italian holds her calm, steady, focused demeanor in every competition. She commented after the Oberhof sprint, “I tried to stay concentrated, to do a good race… I do my best in every race…” That sums her up perfectly. Wearing Yellow for the first time in her career will probably not faze her in Östersund; Vittozzi will “do my best” and probably win a medal or two. Best medal chances: sprint, pursuit, mixed relay.
Wierer relinquished the Yellow Bib to her teammate after the Soldier Hollow pursuit. That change may not be a bad thing. For the first time since early December, that pressure-packed piece of cloth is on someone else’s back. Still, the pressure remains in other ways. The chatty Italian is having the best season of her career, like Vittozzi in the podium mix in most competitions, with just four times out of the top 10. She was at her best in December, with just a single individual podium, victory in the Antholz pursuit since the calendar changed to 2019. Shooting has defined her career, yet she is currently four points behind Vittozzi in accuracy. Yet what Wierer lacks in accuracy she makes up for in speed. It is easy to tell when she is “on;” the first shot comes rapidly and the next four even faster. This rapid-fire sometimes means an extra penalty, but when the targets all close, Wierer picks up 8-10 seconds on her rivals.
Doro comes to the IBU World Championships on two positive notes. She won for the first time in her career at home in Antholz, overcoming huge pressure, where she said, “I am really happy because (winning) at home is even more difficult.” She and Lukas Hofer then teamed for a stunning single mixed relay win at Soldier Hollow, the last competition before the Östersund. Her last standing stage in that relay was classic Wierer. “At the last shooting, I was seven seconds behind so I knew I had to shoot fast and clean. I felt confident, there was no wind, and everything was perfect.”
That led Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser who finished second to say, “Doro was so strong in shooting and on the tracks; she was unbeatable today.”
Although the Antholz pursuit win was the first in that discipline, it remains her bread and butter with 14 career podiums with her only individual IBU WCH medal, coming at Oslo in 2016.
Best medal chances: Individual, pursuit, mixed relay, single mixed relay.
Marte Olsbu Røiseland
The Norwegian Olympic Sprint Silver medalist is also having a career season. She leads the women’s pack with three victories, the only three of her career. Currently number three in the World Cup Total Score, Olsbu Røiseland is well above her career high water mark of 12th in the 2016-17 season. Besides the three wins and a third place, she has seven top 10 finishes, with nothing lower than 4th in the sprints since Hochfilzen. Her prone shooting is almost 10 points better than last season with her overall shooting stats up 2%.
Fast at the Finish
Yet the Norwegian’s strength has been on the tracks; with especially consistently fast last loops, (very close in speed to the known speedster Denise Herrmann) in most competitions. She (almost) explained her new-found ski speed. “I have not done so much; just one more year of training and this year has been very good for me physically.” That one year of training may be the key. It is easy to forget that the 28-year-old has only been on the BMW IBU World Cup circuit since the 2014-15 season.Best medal chances: sprint, mixed relay, relay.
Prior to the season start, Kuzmina announced that this would be her last BMW IBU World Cup campaign. With that in mind, she has not let her foot off the gas pedal. Although not at the top of the World Cup Total Score as she was last season, her fourth place currently is only 93 points from the top spot. She found her footing with the Nove Mesto mass start win and since then won the Ruhpolding sprint, was second in the Oberhof pursuit and picked up three fifth places. The three-time Olympic Gold medalist remains one of the fastest, strongest women on the tracks. Shooting can be her downfall, yet she has closed 82% of her targets this season. The 34-year-old has a better OWG record than at the IBU WCH, with five medals (three Gold, two Silver) to one Bronze IBU WCH medal. She surely hopes to improve that record in Östersund, where she has only one podium back in 2013. Despite this, her strong, powerful skiing style is a good match and an advantage on the tough WCH tracks. This classy lady has 14 sprint podiums in her career, with nine wins. Putting together a clean-shooting day as she did in Ruhpolding and a strong track performance will add to her resume. Best medal chances: sprint, mass start.
The 2018 World Cup Total Score titlist started the season very hot, with three wins and a second in the first five competitions. Then she cooled until Antholz; getting back on track with second in the sprint, sixth in the pursuit and seventh in the mass start. She added second and third places at Soldier Hollow. Sitting in fifth place in the World Cup Total Score, the Finnish veteran with 84 podiums but only six WCH medals seems poised for an IBU WCH podium run. Her course times have been fast all season, as usual; she was at the head of the pack in the USA competitions. Mäkäräinen has always been a fighter; that spirit showed up in Antholz after the long podium drought. “It feels almost like my first podium. Seriously after so many really hard weeks for me; it was almost hard to believe I would ever come back here, but I tried to focus on my training and do the things as well as I can…”
Queen of the Pursuit
That spirit is the reason why Mäkäräinen is the “Queen of the Pursuit” with 33 career pursuit podiums, including two wins this season. She loves to battle and mow down her competitors with her blazing skis. Mäkäräinen is one of those rare people who can compensate for shooting miscues with her skis. That is why her second best discipline is the sprint where she has 32 podiums. Best medal chances: sprint, pursuit.
Multi-medaled Laura Dahlmeier
Dahlmeier has to be included in any medal preview. Her Championship career is remarkable. She won the sprint/pursuit double at the Pyeongchang OWG, plus a 15K individual Bronze medal for good measure. Dahlmeier won a medal in every competition that she started in the past two IBU WCH. In 2017, she won the unmatched five Gold medals and one Silver medal. Going into Östersund, her season has been a small sample, after missing competitions due to health issues and the need to make up for missed training: jus eight individual competitions and two relays. Dahlmeier has a win, two seconds and a third place in the eight individual competitions. Her shooting has been fairly normal except for the six-penalty 30th place in the Ruhpolding mass start. Yet at times, she has seemed sluggish on the tracks. Of course after almost a month to prepare, the enigmatic Dahlmeier could show up in Östersund and dominate, but… Best medal chances: pursuit, mixed relay, relay.
Home Team Favorite Hanna Oeberg
The 23-year-old Olympic 15K individual Gold medalist has to be considered as a lady to watch in her home stadium. After an early season illness, she has been nothing but consistent. She has been in the top 10 in eight of her ten BMW IBU World Cup appearances since Hochfilzen, including three times on the podium. Oeberg won two medals at the IBU OECH, 15K individual Gold and sprint Bronze. The two-time junior World Champion is shooting at an 86% clip with three clean-shooting days this season. On the tracks, she has demonstrated top 10 ski speed. Oeberg has been looking forward to competing in this once-in-a-career home Championships for a long time; that will add to her motivation. Several months ago, she commented, “I think it (the IBU WCH) will be really fun. I like competing in Östersund; the World Championships there will make it on another level. I like to have the crowds cheering for me. I am really looking forward to it.” Best medal chances: individual, mass start, mixed relay, relay.