The first World Cup stage of 2022/2023 is over, and the competitions have finally started. I'm very happy that we had excellent conditions in Kontiolahti for the Season Opening after some warm weather earlier in November.
It was an intense week for the athletes competing; this first week always is, – but for me, too, even if I’m not at the start gate anymore. Believe me, commentating on biathlon is also quite intense!
Especially in the Women Pursuit, so much happened at once that we had to be focussed on everything: our five Finnish women, the leaders, and the climbers. And it showed us what is possible in a biathlon with a great performance. Quite a few successful names of the last years are not at the start line now, so there are new opportunities to do well, the field looks different. But that doesn't make it easier to ski fast or to shoot clean, and so many women did on Sunday. Still, there is one familiar story: the strong opening from the Swedish women. With a relay victory and podiums for Linn Persson and both Oeberg sisters, they had a good start - especially Hanna Oeberg, which was nice to see.
Johannes Thingnes Boe shows very compelling form right at the start, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep the rest of the guys at this distance. On the other hand, Quentin Fillon Maillet did not have quite the same shape yet.
It's not always easy to come back after such a successful season - I know it myself. Everybody is expecting a lot, and for sure, he is expecting a lot after his results last year. But I also saw the competitions in Idre in the middle of November, and he was not the best French athlete that weekend. I think Quentin probably knew his level of preparation going into the first World Cup week better than we all did.
Of course, it is very easy to get excited by the first few results. But sometimes we read a lot or too much into the Season Opening results - and forget the weeks before. Especially this year, the snow conditions in November were very different in many parts of Europe. Some teams didn't have perfect training conditions, nor did they have enough time on good snow. Some others had solid preparation weeks: look at the German team, who went to Vuokatti in central Finland. They spent time in good conditions and looked ready in Kontiolahti.
After the nerves of the first week, the athletes often are relieved. The lengthy preparation is over, and the season has started - but Hochfilzen comes at you fast, especially for the women who continue tomorrow with the Sprint. You can't drop your focus because the profile and the range in Hochfilzen look easier than they are. I always thought that the Hochfilzen course was not suitable for me because I liked the larger uphills, but I actually had some good results there, including my last World Championships medal in the 2017 Mass Start.
In many seasons, the favourites start emerging on the podium in Hochfilzen. Just look at the last three years: the Total Score Contenders invariably battled for the podium place or the victory. This is why it will be interesting to see if Hochfilzen will be a sign of what will happen during the rest of this winter once again.