These three competitions are now aligned in the new IBU Summer Biathlon Event Series with the IBU adding both prize money and financial participation support as incentives for the top teams and athletes.
Blink kicks off summer with a return to its original Sandnes city-centre venue. The Norwegian team remains front and centre, with their big stars from Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Tiril Eckhoff to Sturla Holm Laegreid and the Boe brothers. This year, a strong international field returns with the French team led by Olympic Champions Quentin Fillon Maillet and Justin Braisaz Bouchet, Sweden with the Oeberg sisters and Sebastian Samuelsson and the Czech Republic women’s team with IBU World Champion Marketa Davidova plus competitors from Canada, Estonia, Italy, and China.
Biathlon takes centre stage on Friday and Saturday August 5-6. The popular shooting duel kicks off Friday with a finale between the top man and woman. Super sprints close the evening followed by a country rock concert. Saturday has age group biathlon and the mass starts pitting the top 15 men and women. With the strong fields, can Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen repeat his 2021 hat trick: shooting duel, super sprint, mass start sweep?
Two weeks after Blink, Ruhpolding’s Chiemgau Arena will host the most impressive IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships ever. The four competition days feature senior and junior men’s and women’s super sprints, short sprints, junior short pursuits capped by a new competition, the senior men’s and women’s Gala Mass Starts.
These Gala Mass Starts will look a lot like a BMW IBU World Cup mass start. The top 15 in last season’s WC Total Score qualify, the top 3 from Blink and the 2022 IBU SBWCH medalists and the remaining spots going to the top point winners in Ruhpolding. There is a nice prize money pool for all of the IBU SBWCH competitions; the top six get a check with 5,000 Euros for Gold medalists. The Gala Mass Starts take the prize money a step further, with 15,000 Euros to the winner and cash down to 15th place. This should be incentive enough for many big stars to head to Ruhpolding the last week in August.
A peek at the IBU SBWCH fields finds the German team in full force. Think Benedikt Doll, Johannes Kuehn, Philipp Nawrath for the men; Olympic Champion Denise Herrmann and Venessa Voigt, plus possibly IBU YJ World Champions Lisa Spark and Selina Grotian going for medals. The full Swedish squad will make its first-ever IBU SBWCH appearance with Olympic Gold medalists Elvira and Hanna Oeberg, rising star Stina Nilsson, Olympic Silver medalist Martin Ponsiluoma and Sebastian Samuelsson, plus another dozen teammates. Dorothea Wierer makes her first IBU SBWCH appearance since winning the 2013 SBWCH Sprint Gold. Her Italian teammate 2013 SBWCH Relay Bronze medalist Lisa Vittozzi, as well as Didier Bionaz and Tommaso Giacomel are also scheduled to compete. Throw three men and women from Blink into the Gala Mass Start and the Ruhpolding IBU SBWCH becomes the must-see event of the summer!
The week after, the focus shifts west to Annecy, France for the third Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival, a three-day extravaganza of music, fan village, autographs, top-flight cross-country and biathlon competitions including biathlon running competitions for children and adults. The events draw thousands of spectators the Le Pȃquier meadow, just steps from both the charming city centre and the deep blue Lake Annecy. Fourcade and his team bring in top fields every year; past fields included the man himself, Sturla Holm Laegreid, Johannes Thingnes Boe, Quentin Fillon Maillet, Benedikt Doll, Dorothea Wierer Lisa Vittozzi, Tiril Eckhoff, Anais Chevalier-Bouchet and Justine Braisaz Bouchet.
This year will be no exception, with IBU Total Score winner and triple Olympic Gold medalist Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Olympic Mass Start Champion Justine Braisaz Bouchet headlining the lady's field. Olsbu Roeiseland, in her first Annecy appearance was unquestionably the female star in Beijing, winning medals in five of the six competitions she started there. Her clean-shooting domination of the OWG sprint and single-miss pursuit made the Norwegian only the second woman with a sprint/pursuit double in Olympic history. Braisaz Bouchet's stunning Olympic mass start win prevented a Norwegian 1-2 dropping Tiril Eckhoff and Olsbu Roeiseland to Silver and Bronze medals. MFNF Defending Champion Chevalier-Bouchet who brought home two Olympic Silver medals from China will give the Norwegian and Braisaz Bouchet a tough battle. Teammate Julia Simon, always fast and inspired on rollerskis will give the home team French squad another chance for victory. IBU World Champion Marketa Davidova, who finished fourth in that OWG mass start will make her first appearance like Olsbu Roeiseland. Expect the additional four women at the MFNF to be fan favorites who can also fly on the tracks and put up zeroes on the shooting range.
A homegrown headliner, Emilien Jacquelin is the big story in the men’s field. Jacquelin was invited last year but missed much of the summer of 2021 and competitions after serious wrist surgery. Now the fan favourite two-time IBU Pursuit World Champion is set to challenge the other formidable competitors. Although the rest of the men's field has not been announced; it will be formidable. Expect a strong French presence and possibly several from a rival Scandinavian team; let your imagination wander! The big names will be chased by a rising talent and a couple more of BMW IBU World Cup veterans.
These three weeks of elite summer biathlon competitions will be a good appetiser and some biathlon withdrawal relief for the fans as well as the athletes eager to slip on a race bib match up with their international foes.
Stay tuned…excitement awaits.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Jerry Kokesh, MFNF, Blinkfestivalen