It is not hard to believe that four of the top five men on the watch list are Norwegians. They have dominated the podium, overwhelming all challengers, taking 15 of the 18 individual podium spots in the second trimester. For the season to date, Norwegian men earned 27 podiums, including 9 individual victories and have won all four men’s relays. Although there will be many talented men competing in the Vysočina Arena, all eyes are likely to be focused on these five men.
Johannes Thingnes Boe took a bit to get his season going but the man in the Yellow Bib is the one to watch. He will defend his 2023 sprint, pursuit, and individual titles, plus the two mixed relays. His shooting is just 1% below last season but his ski speed remains unmatched. The only men seemingly capable of topping him are teammates like Johannes Dale-Skjevdal who has outskied JT at times this season.
Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen had a rough first trimester with just one individual podium and was left off the Oberhof roster. Since returning to the BMW IBU World Cup, he has two individual victories and a second place, anchored a relay win and single mixed second place. If winning is the best revenge, then it could be Christiansen’s current mantra. He is likely the one to make JT sweat the most in the Gold medal battle.
Johannes Dale-Skjevdal may not shoot quite as well as Christiansen and JT, but he has wheels, sprinting away from the duo, winning the Ruhpolding pursuit. In Antholz, a single extra penalty loop deprived him from topping Christiansen. Dale-Skjevdal, continuing his comeback from demotion to the IBU Cup two seasons ago looks poised to top the two medals he won at Pokljuka 2021.
Tarjei Boe is better than ever this season: a half-dozen podiums including a win, shooting at a career-best 89%, and the only man in the field who won a World Championship (Mass Start) at NMNM in 2013. No one would be surprised to see the resilient Norwegian veteran claim several Gold medals this February.
Although only 10th in the World Cup Total Score, Tommaso Giacomel comes to NMNM looking to add to his two IBU WCH medals from last season. Giacomel’s January was consistent: shooting 19/20 to jump from 25th to 11th in the Oberhof Pursuit, two relay and a single mixed podium, second to Christiansen in the Ruhpolding Sprint and fast track times. He could be the man to crack the dominating Norwegian medal machine.
The French women’s team, the story of the season so far, could walk away with a fistful of medals, while their Italian and Norwegian rivals battle for the leftovers.
2023 BMW IBU WCH Mass Start Silver medalist Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold goes into NMNM wearing Yellow despite an up-and down January. The Ruhpolding Sprint win and pursuit second place, hitting 29-of-30 targets highlighted the month. If she puts the pieces together like that, expect Tandrevold to add more medals to her trophy case.
Lou Jeanmonnot only had two January podiums but was the month’s most consistent performer, missing just 7 of 120 shots and finishing lower than fifth once (9th Oberhof Sprint). Watch for her to battle for the podium in every individual competition and set the tone in the leadoff leg when the French women pursue Relay Gold.
Julia Simon won the trimester-closing Antholz Women’s Mass Start pulling away from Jeanmonnot in the last loop to reassert herself as a medal favorite for NMNM. After a slow start in Oestersund, Simon has improved almost every week since. Part of the uber-competitive Simon’s arsenal is her consistently fastest-in-the-field range times and as she said in Antholz “almost perfect shooting.”
Going into the Vysočina Arena competitions, Lisa Vittozzi is more confident than ever especially on the shooting range where she is closing targets at a 92% clip. A slight uptick in Vittozzi’s ski speed combined with that kind of shooting will find her in the medal mix especially in the 15 km individual. Her shooting will be crucial in Italy’s defense of their 2023 women’s relay title while the Vittozzi/Giacomel duo will go after single mixed relay Gold.
Justine Braisaz Bouchet has cooled off since losing the Yellow Bib to Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold in mid-January. A shooting drop-off kept her from podium contention after Oberhof. Yet one thing remains, Justine’s efficient flowing ski speed. Although 9th in the Antholz Mass Start, she still was the fastest woman in the field. Resolving her shooting puts her in the NMNM medal chase.
Statistically these five men and women are the major medal contenders, but in every Championship environment, several outliers will rise to the occasion. Keep in mind that defending World Champions Hanna Oeberg and Sebastian Samuelsson are not in this group, nor were they last year…Stay tuned!
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Vianney Thibaut, Nordic Focus