Watch These Five Men plus Wild Cards at the IBU World Championships
If the upcoming IBU World Championships go as the most of the season has gone so far, each day will simply be another round of the soap opera, “Trying to Catch Johannes.”
That is basically how the 2018-19 BMW IBU World Cup season has gone so far. There is Johannes Thingnes Boe in front, being chased but infrequently caught by the those just behind him in the World Cup total Score: Alexander Loginov, Simon Desthieux, Quentin Fillon Maillet, Simon Eder and several formidable contenders including Martin Fourcade and the recently hot Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen, and the Yellow Bib’s brother, Tarjei.
Johannes Thingnes Boe
No one would dispute that Johannes has been the singular star of the season to date, leading the World Cup Total Score by almost 300 points, securing the Sprint Globe weeks ago, and in a position to sweep all of the discipline Globes. He has a dozen wins, with a season low point of 9th place in the Hochfilzen pursuit way back in mid-December.
His shooting is generally about the same as last season, with three clean shooting days, but more days with a single penalty than in the past, which signals improvement. On the tracks, he has been unmatched, with numerous wire-to-wire wins. Those wins are part of his winning strategy; get to the front at the first split as in the 15K short individual in Canmore and then build up a gap on the field. Even after his recent shooting woes in North America, Johannes came back with a sterling mixed relay leg, shooting clean, turning a 15-second deficit at the exchange into a 26 second lead when he tagged Tiril Eckhoff. That leg shows just how good Johannes is; simply intimidating.
Perfection Equals Medals
Despite his intimidating style and impeccable record this season, the 2018 Olympic 20K Gold medalist realizes that no one is unbeatable. Citing last season, “In the (World Cup) season prior to Pyeongchang, Martin (Fourcade) and I won every race except the one (Östersund sprint) that Tarjei won. There was just a big fight between me and him. Who will win the Olympic sprint Gold? Then both of us missed three in the sprint. We never did that before; Arnd Peiffer came in and won the Gold. That is what we like about this sport. It is painful for us but it is good that you can never point out who is winning. Each race lives out its own life. I have to be at my best if I want to get a medal. To have a Gold; I have to be perfect.” With that perfection in mind, best medal chances: sprint, pursuit, mass start, individual, mixed relay, relay; simply everything he competes in.
Loginov currently sits second in the World Cup Total Score, having mostly benefitted from great success in the first nine competitions of the season. In that stretch, he was on the podium five times with a win, two second places and two third places. In that stretch, the Russian star shot clean three times and had a single penalty three other times. He was also extremely strong on the tracks, usually among the top five fastest men behind Johannes. In his Oberhof sprint win, Loginov’s course time was just two seconds behind the Norwegian.
Among the Elite Men
Since that early season run, Loginov has cooled, with just a single podium, third place in the Canmore 15K short individual. His shooting has not been as accurate, with no clean shooting days. His ski speed, although still very good has fallen off to the upper part of the top ten times, versus the top five earlier. He is the key man on the Russian men’s relay team, very important to their medal chances. With that said, Loginov is still a formidable competitor. His early season proved him to be among the elite. Should his shooting and ski speed recover even slightly, he will be in the medals mix. Best medal chances: sprint, pursuit, relay.
Desthieux is the man on the move at this stage of the season, getting so close to Loginov in the Total Score that the Russian can probably feel his breath; the gap currently is a mere nine points. The 27-year-old is having a career season, quietly consistent with 11 Top 10 results including two podiums, including a career-best tying second in the Soldier Hollow sprint. That weekend, he was on the podium in all three competitions: sprint, pursuit and mixed relay. Desthieux’s success has been built on his ski speed. From as early as the season-opening Pokljuka sprint, his name sits second in course times in every sprint except Oberhof. That makes him a true contender in that discipline. At the same time, although there are no clean-shooting days on his resume this season, yet his shooting has been solid at 82% overall.
On a Roll
The Olympic Mixed Relay Gold medalist left North America on a roll after the three consecutive podiums. If his hot hand continues, Desthieux could be in line for the first individual WCH medals of his career. Best medal chances: sprint, pursuit, mixed relay, relay.
Quentin Fillon Maillet
Fillon Maillet sits fourth in the World Cup Total Score, climbing faster than his teammate Desthieux in recent weeks. In the last seven competitions, starting with the Ruhpolding mass start, he has two victories, two third places, sixth and seventh places. Unlike his teammate, Fillon Maillet’s success comes down the barrel of his rifle. He shot clean in both of his victories, the Antholz mass start and Soldier Hollow pursuit. Over those seven individual competitions, Fillon Maillet hit 113 of 120 shots or 93%. Regarding his shooting success, he commented recently, “I try to not think when I shoot; I keep focused, not thinking about the public or the other guys around me which is hard.”
The two victories, the first World Cup wins of his career were both in four-stage competitions. Those competitions are Fillon Maillet’s specialty, 13 of his 14 career podiums have been in four-stagers. At the same time, this man who crafts his own rifle stocks (maybe the key to his shooting success) is a staple on the French relay team, with 11 career podiums. Best medal chances: pursuit, mass start, mixed relay (if included, relay.
Eder’s season so far is right up there with his best ever; he finished fifth in the World Cup Total Score twice previously, in 2014 and 2016. Like Desthieux, he has been consistently in the Top 10: 11 times to be exact. This veteran has again proved that in biathlon, age is not always a factor. At 36, he has been in the top 6 in the sprint, pursuit and individual this season. Throughout his career that dates back to 2002, shooting has always been his best game, guided by his shooting guru/coach father Alfred Eder. Those range skills have netted him 20 career podiums, with all but one in four-stage competitions.
95% in Prone
Yet this season has been more special than ever, Eder is skiing well, but he is better than ever on the shooting range, closing 92% of his targets including an amazing 95% in prone. Still, he only has a single individual podium this season, in the Pokljuka 20K. At the same time, his collaboration in the single mixed relay with Lisa Theresa Hauser is virtually a guaranteed podium. They have paired six times, coming away with two victories and four second places. Best medal chances: 20K individual, pursuit, single mixed relay.
There is no reason to expound on the record of the seven-time World Cup Total Score titlist, owner of 25 IBU WCH medals (including 11 Gold) and five-time Olympic Gold medalist; those achievements tell the tale. Fourcade skipped the North American tour to get his season back on track. From Nove Mesto on, he never felt like the Martin of previous seasons. After leaving the BMW IBU World Cup circuit at Antholz, Fourcade has been under the radar, preparing for Östersund. He has battled some illness in that time away, so it is hard to tell where Fourcade is until he steps into a competition. With that in mind, he remains a cagy competitor; able to shoot fast or slow as necessary to close the targets. His shooting stats so far this season are career highs at 92% overall. He is, even at a diminished level, a powerful presence on the tracks.
Fourcade’s season through Antholz was far from his high standards, yet he still had two wins, a second and nine additional times in the top 10 in fifteen competitions. Watch for the always formidable Fourcade as a medal threat. Best medal chances: sprint, pursuit, individual, mass start, relay.
Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen
Christiansen, the 2018 IBU Cup Total Score winner asserted himself over the North American BMW IBU World Cups 6 and 7. His first career individual podium came with third in the Canmore 15K short individual. He followed that with a leg on the winning Norwegian men’s relay, career win number one in the Soldier Hollow sprint, second in the pursuit and third in the mixed relay. The former IBU Rookie of the Year shot well in all five competitions, with a perfect 10-for-10 keying his sprint win. After many years of climbing his way to a solid spot on the World Cup team, Christiansen now seems settled and ready to battle for medals. Best medal chances: sprint, relay.
Tarjei Back in the Mix
Johannes’ veteran brother Tarjei laid his claim to medal contender in Östersund with a convincing one-penalty sprint/pursuit double at the IBU OECH last week, plus second in the 20K individual competition. He had the fastest course time in the sprint and 20K. Prior to Minsk, Tarjei had only been on the podium twice this season, yet the IBU OECH results put him back in the mix. It is hard to count him out of the medals; he has previously come to the IBU WCH with less than stellar results after illness and missing competitions and walked away with medals. Note 2014-15: no podiums before Kontiolahti but four Bronze and one Silver IBU WCH medals when the dust settled. Best medal chances: sprint, pursuit, relay.