In 2022/23, the German men had exactly zero victories and second places in Kontiolahti, Hochfilzen and Annecy Le Grand Bornand, three individual third places and two relay podiums, total…five. This year through Oberhof, the total is ten: four victories, two seconds and a third, plus three relay podiums. 2015/16 was the last time the German men had three victories in the first trimester; all were by Simon Schempp. Last month, Philipp Nawrath, Roman Rees and Benedikt Doll each won, and Doll won again in Oberhof.
Beyond the podiums, something almost unheard of happened…Franziska Preuss and Philipp Nawrath were in Yellow at the same time. Laura Dahlmeier was the last German woman to wear Yellow in December 2016 and Michael Greis wore Yellow in December, 2006!
After a December like that, the German men are unquestionably in the midst of a renaissance season. Their success has not been driven by a single star. Doll, Nawrath, Rees, Justus Strelow, Johannes Kuehn, Philipp Horn, and David Zobel have all been good.
What is different this year compared to recent seasons? Actually, the differences are few and subtle. New Head Coach Uros Velepec and Assistant Jens Filbrich added a simple reset. Velepec has been around for one season with his hard-work/fun philosophy; Filbrich added a new face and enthusiasm to the training. These two might have been just enough to bond this talented group, taking then up a notch after last year’s disappointing home BMW IBU World Championships in Oberhof.
Velepec thinks there are numerous factors, but one stands out. “I think our success is all about confidence. You know that first race in Oestersund with Roman and Justus 1-2 was amazing. That started it; everyone believed they could do it and it went from there. Also, this is a really good group: six strong athletes, good people to work with who work together well. They work together well and appreciate each other’s success.”
This reinvented team started fast in Oestersund, with victories, relay podium and the Yellow Bib. The Yellow Bib’s impact was not lost on Nawrath ( 28th, 2022/23 World Cup Total Score). “It was not a dream, but a dream that was true. I am really grateful and thankful…It is hard to believe. If someone had told me before (this). I would have said, ‘Are you crazy?’…and Franzi has the Yellow Bib, too…I think everyone on our team can be proud of this.”
Winning as a Team
The relay foursome in Hochfilzen battled back to third, after an early penalty. Kuehn emphasized the importance of “team.” “We win as a team and we lose as a team. In Oestersund, it was me that had trouble; the others saved me. Today it was like I was the lead part of the saving team (after Zobel’s penalty). We gave our best and are good as a team. Our biggest strength is that we have four really good guys; I can always rely on the others if needed.”
Anchor leg Doll hinted at the coach’s influence. “I tried to follow my plan for the race that I made with our coach Uros (Velepec). It worked well and felt like a win. The plan was to stay calm, let the weapon do the aiming by itself, and only pull the trigger.”
The Lenzerheide sprint was the December highlight: Doll shot clean for his first win in four years; Nawrath and Horn had a single misses in third and fourth and Kuehn in sixth shot clean, his fifth top ten this season. Shooting paved the way, but as Doll explained, “It was the perfect race, also from our service team. We had really good skis and found four Germans in the top six. It is even nicer when you win together.”
Nawrath, after winning a complete set of WC medals in a December, detailed the “magic potion” that drives the German men’s team. “We have good service, good preparation. Everyone around us is working really well. We have fun when we are at our home (hotel). Continuing, he added, “(Third place) was great for my confidence and shows that Oestersund is not a one-time performance. Doing well in the third week shows we are really well-prepared. Before the season, we worked really hard. That is why we have these good results here...We will see how it works out for the rest of the season.”
Going into 2024, Velepec continues to push the envelope. “We are still working, especially on shooting faster in the pursuits and mass starts. The Norwegians are so good at this; everyone else is trying to catch up. This is part of the new world of biathlon. We are not there yet, but if you keep working and trying, eventually you will succeed.”
Keep your eyes on Team Germany!
Photos: IBU/ Christian Manzoni, Per Danielsson Jasmin Walter