World Championships hot topics: Women's Competitions

The 2023 BMW IBU World Championships are less than a week away. The first two trimesters were filled with thrilling and closely contested women’s competitions: think of Julia Simon’s spectacular shooting, the return of Lisa Vittozzi, hotly contested relays and rising stars like Lou Jeanmonnot. Now, here are five hot topics for the women’s competitions in the Oberhof.

1. Keep your eyes peeled on the wind flags!

Shooting clean is the Gold standard; this season, nine of the fourteen individual winners have nothing but zeros behind their name. World Cup Total Score leader Julia Simon fired 130 prone shots in the first trimester before finally missing one, hitting 90 % of all her shots. Elvira Oeberg slightly more effective overall, closed 91% of her targets. Then there is the fast-shooting Dorothea Wierer at 88%, her best average in years. All three are lights out in prone, 94% of the time successful.

However, shooting in Oberhof is a different bird; it is no Ruhpolding, well protected from the wind with an easy approach. Oberhof has this very long flat approach where the only recovery comes by simply slowing down. Once on the range, the wind swoops off the tribunes from the left to the right, swirling by the time it reaches lane one. Shooting clean in Oberhof takes patience and attention to the wind flags even moreso than at many other venues. In the last two seasons, only one of the eight individual competitions saw the winner shoot clean. A clean-shooting day is one path to the podium.

2. The comebackers will be a factor.

The number one comeback story this season is obviously Lisa Vittozzi. After a three-season struggle, Vittozzi’s 74% on the range last year morphed into 89% this season. That plus refound confidence and impressive track times carried the 27-year-old to a victory and five additional podiums this season. Vittozzi, who won an Oberhof sprint/pursuit double in 2019 looks primed to reel in several IBU WCH medals.

2022 World Cup Total Score winner Marte Olsbu Roeiseland also looms large. The Norwegian missed the first trimester and the podium remains elusive but her return has been impressive: closing 93% of her targets and two weeks ago grabbing 4th and 5th in the Antholz sprint/pursuit. Olsbu Roeiseland’s Championship pedigree and her skill at peaking puts her in the medal chase.

3. Spoilers and unexpected medalists.

A lesser-known talent rises to the occasion, leaving a headliner with nothing more than a “Chocolate medal.” Jeanmonnot ranks high among the spoilers, with five top ten results, her first-ever podium in the Ruhpolding 15 km individual; all since her breakthrough ALGB mass start 6th place. The 2022 IBU Cup Total Score winner and proven sharpshooter could add individual and relay IBU WCH medals to her trophy case. Linn Persson owns Olympic Gold and Silver relay medals but a single top ten at the IBU WCH. This could be the unassuming Swedish relay leadoff’s year: fourth in the World Cup Sprint Score, a career-best second in the ALGB sprint, nine top ten results with two penalties or less on most days puts Persson in the medal hunt.

The biggest potential spoiler is rookie Anamarija Lampič. Lampič’s otherworldly ski speed propelled her to second in the Ridnaun IBU Cup mass start 60; despite five penalties, she finished nine seconds behind the clean-shooting winner! Those same flashing skis bought the Cross-country Sprint Globe winner to Flower Ceremonies in Hochfilzen and Antholz, missing the podium by 9.7 seconds in Italy. Although very familiar with the penalty loop, the bubbly full-gas-all-the-time rookie can overcome two or three mistakes to chase medals. Whether medal-winning or not, Lampič is an outsider to watch.

4. Relay fun: France, Sweden and...

The women’s relay could be one of the most closely contested and fun events in Oberhof. Sweden leads the World Cup Relay Score with France trailing by just six points. The French squad with Jeanmonnot, the Chevalier sisters and Simon dominated in Antholz with a record-setting two spare rounds and impressive skiing, topping Olympic Champions Sweden. Should Hanna tag Elvira Oeberg within 10-15 seconds of Simon or vice-versa in no-altitude Oberhof, a battle royale for the World Championship title will ensue. Beyond these the home team Germany team is in the mix after third in Antholz without Denise Herrmann-Wick. The Italians led by the Wierer/Vittozzi dynamic duo and the Norwegians suddenly stronger with Olsbu Roeiseland are not to be forgotten. The steady Germans are unlikely to end up on the penalty loop, but their Italian and Norwegian rivals must avoid the 150-meter “loop of hell” to crack the podium. Circle relay day February 18 on the calendar.

5. Denise Herrmann-Wick and her young German teammates.

Hermann-Wick is unofficial face of the Oberhof BMW IBU World Championships. The Olympic Gold medalist stated early on that her focus was not on the World Cup Total Score but her home World Champs. After the Ruhpolding relay, she opted out of the mass start, thinking long-term: Oberhof. The Antholz pursuit victory from 23 seconds back at the start proved her readiness. Hermann-Wick’s shooting is at a career-high, her skiing as strong as ever and she likes the Oberhof layout. Winning a World Championship title (or two) on home soil is no easy task, but Herrmann-Wick is “locked and loaded,” waiting for the German fan energy to propel her to Gold. Herrmann-Wick’s leadership and the friendly confines of the Arena am Rennsteig should boost her younger teammates to personal bests, maybe a medal by the sharp-shooting Vanessa Voigt and an inspired relay performance that ends with medals around their necks.

Stay tuned…it is all just a few days away.

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Igor Stančík, Jasmine Walter

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