Preview: Who will Rule the Mixed Relay?

In less than 24 hours, the mixed relay will kick off the biathlon competitions at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, just as it has traditionally in the IBU World Championships.

Opening Ceremonies

However, before the twenty teams headed out on their first medal quest in Zhangjiakou, the Opening Ceremonies officially set these Games in motion at the National Stadium in Beijing proper. The biathletes competing in the mixed relay remained hunkered down in their accommodations while some of their teammates participated in the opening gala. Among those who headed down to Beijing to walk in the ceremonies included Canada’s Jules Burnotte, France’s Chloe Chevalier and Eric Perrot, and USA’s Deedra Irwin; all eager to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Twelve people: six men and six women, leave day one with a medal”

Opening with the mixed relay gives all of the athletes a chance to check conditions and their shape before the individual competitions begin. At the same time, it will take the “medal pressure” off a dozen competitors a NBC’s Chad Salmela said earlier in the week. “Being first. it sets up a great pressure-release valve for the teams who take medals that first day, because twelve people: six men and six women, leave day one with a medal… The nations whose biggest medal favorites walk away with medals that day suddenly have a very strong probability of more medals, with the cloak of pressure thrown off.”

Fillon Maillet hoping for Gold

Those big medal favorites come mainly from defending Gold medalist France and Silver medalist Norway while Italy is going for their third consecutive Bronze medal. France is starting a completely new team with Anais Chevalier-Bouchet, Julia Simon, Emilien Jacquelin and Quentin Fillon Maillet. Fillon Maillet thinks his team has a good chance to take the Gold medal. “I am in good shape and the shooting is quite good. I just need to validate it in the race…It is good to start with the relay because it is a short distance and you can find your full speed on the track and the hard shooting conditions. I think France can be expected for the Gold. It will be a great fight because you have the two best women and the two best men (on each team); a great race to watch but also to race (in).”

Three Return on Norway's "Epic Team"

However, Norway returns Tiril Eckhoff, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Johannes Thingnes Boe from their 2018 Silver medal team, replacing the now-retired Emil Hegle Svendsen with Tarjei Boe, an equally impressive line-up.

Eckhoff admitted there would be challenges with the cold, but she was confident about the Norwegian squad. “I’ve been here for a couple of days and really got to test the conditions to race here. I’ve made a lot of clever decisions and I’m looking forward to competing in the relay with these people. It’s an epic team.”

The Italians have their complete medal-winning team of Lisa Vittozzi, Dorothea Wierer, Lukas Hofer and Dominik Windisch, on hand but have replaced Windisch with Thomas Bormolini for tomorrow. Yet they might have a very hard uphill battle to the podium due to Vittozzi’s recent shooting woes and Hofer’s return from injury.

Sweden’s Oeberg Sisters

The strongest podium contenders beyond the 2018 medalists will come from three teams: Sweden, ROC and Belarus. Sweden with the Oeberg sisters, Martin Ponsiluoma and Sebastian Samuelsson has been at the venue the longest time and feel that gives them some advantage over their rivals. Hanna commented, “It is a good thing that we came here a week ago and have tried the winds for several trainings. We (have) started to get used to it.”

Her sister Elvira is quite excited about being part of the mixed relay. “It will be my first race at the Olympic Games, so I’m really excited. It’s probably going to be a really fun competition. We know we have a great team.”

ROC and Belarus

The ROC will line up Uliana Nigmatullina, Kristina Reztsova, Alexander Loginov, and Eduard Latypov. Reztsova and Latypov have both been on the podium this season while Loginov won the Oberhof sprint. Their weakness might be the fact that Latypov missed Oberhof and Ruhpolding due to Covid-19. The Belarusian squad has three strong legs with current second in the World Cup Total Score Dzinara Alimbekava, Hanna Sola who won the Hochfilzen sprint, and Anton Smolski who has three podiums this season, Nikita Labastau is the second man on their team.

Plenty of good strong teams in this competition. It may not be the most star-studded teams that take the medals, but the ones who manage their nerves and the expected windy conditions the best.

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni

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