On the way to the Total Score title, Julia Simon went from a very average 80% to a spectacular 89% on the range. Her shooting was extraordinary, going through the first trimester hitting 74 of 75 prone shots. “The hardest thing about improving my shooting was to accept that I needed two years to become a good shooter. Especially in prone, it takes time.” Simon’s range prowess, combined with speedy aggressiveness on the tracks carried her from 12th in 2021/22 to 1st in the Total Score, four wins and eight additional individual podiums. After those stunning improvements, can Simon take her shooting up another notch and get faster on the tracks trying to defend the Yellow Bib? Simon trained at home much of this summer, blurring the answers. However, she looked very good in taking the Bessans shooting contest in August; impressively won the French Summer Pursuit Championship in mid-October, going 19-of-20 and looking strong on the tracks. After her first camp with the national team, she commented to Nordic Magazine, “Training alone you lose your bearings. It was important to find them with the group, feel the pressure and relearn how to manage that…I feel the form is getting better…just need to find some freshness to start the season as good as possible.” At the competitions earlier this week in Haute Maurienne, Simon showed her readiness for the new season, easily taking a one-penalty sprint win over Justine Braisaz-Bouchet. Questions answered, Simon seems ready to defend.
Elvira Oeberg was hot on Simon’s heels, 76 points behind when she fell ill in Oberhof, and out of contention for the World Cup Total Score.
There have been times in the last couple of seasons when pundits counted Dorothea Wierer out. Yet she silences the chatter like last year, finishing second in the World Cup Total Score, three years after taking her second big Crystal Globe. Last season Doro won three times, shooting better than ever, including 93% in prone. Her 15 km Individual/Mass Start double in Oestersund was quite impressive, closing all 40 targets, skiing a mere 16 seconds off the top time. This season is important for Wierer. I it goes well, it’s more likely that she will hang around for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games. Wierer makes up for lack of top ski speed with experience and tactics. Winning the Antholz Sprint last year, she used that experience to eek every tenth of a second on the course. Wierer likes her chances every year, including this one in the Total Score battle. “I believe that my strength lies in that ability to perform at a constant level. I have never been the kind of athlete that peaks at the big event.”
What a difference a season can make, just ask Lisa Vittozzi. Her career turned around from a single podium over two seasons, 71% shooting and a dreadful 31st in the World Cup Total Score to a victory, six podiums, 88% shooting and third in the Total Score. She explained the changes that led to her success. “I’ve always expected a lot from myself. I feel like now I reached a new balance mentally; I feel changed: I am more aware of myself and think I can deal with different situations better. I know that I can compete for good results in every race…” Vittozzi will be in the hunt for a long-held goal of Yellow and Crystal. She impressed with two fast clean standing stages, overwhelming her rivals on the tracks at Wiesbaden in August, a positive sign. Her renewed confidence and latent talent are ready for a big splash. “Now I want to feel well, enjoy this journey by giving all I've got, then we will see the result at the end.”
Elvira called Hanna “the Queen of the World Champs” after the 28-year-old won two Gold, a Silver and a Relay Bronze medal in Oberhof. Before that, the elder Oeberg struggled, just one victory in the season-opening Kontiolahti 15 km. Still, she finished seventh in the Total Score, closing the season with second in the Oslo Sprint and winning the Mass Start. Always solid on the range, Hanna improved her standing shooting to 89% last season. Matching that in prone is crucial to her chances. Her and Elvira’s daily training tussles are like the Boe Brothers, neither giving an inch while making the other better. Hanna’s Oberhof success might be the catalyst to her biggest season with Elvira chiming in, “I think it can be a fun winter for both of us!”
Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, eight months removed from her daughter’s birth is the wild card. Her build-up with home training and recently with the French team has gone well. Winning the Blink shooting duel, a strong finish line sprint at the Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival and the French Summer Champs Sprint title prove Braisaz-Bouchet is on track. She admitted to Nordic Magazine that, “my form is coming back more since the beginning of September. I have good feelings on the skis.” With consistent shooting and her track talent, Braisaz-Bouchet could be the big surprise!
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Per Danielsson, Archive