Herrmann-Wick’s 2022/23 legacy included four individual victories and three podiums. The ex-cross-country skier was also the fast-closing anchor on the German women’s relay bringing them four podiums last season. Amplifying her importance: Herrmann-Wick was the only German woman with an individual podium last season.
Vanessa Voigt, Hanna Kebinger, Sophia Schneider, Janina Hettich-Walz, Anna Weidel, Juliane Fruehwirt are under 26 years of age, with only Franziska Preuss older at 29. Those six are just reaching what should be the prime years of their career. 19-year-old Selina Grotian is a huge talent but nowhere near her peak as a biathlete. Based on last season and career results, the chance of these young women reaching the bar set by Herrmann-Wick is almost impossible, but several have the chance to step up big time.
Vanessa Voigt: the need for speed
Skipping over Preuss for the moment, Vanessa Voigt is the most experienced of the “youth” (68 WC starts) with the biggest upside. The 2021 IBU Cup Total Score winner has been reliable since she joined the World Cup circus, with very respectable 12th and 13th place finishes in the World Cup Total Score the last two seasons. Beyond the 41st and 46th places in the IBU WCH sprint/pursuit this year, she seldom has a bad day. Consistency is her calling card, especially on the range where 90%+ puts Voigt in the top five in the BMW IBU World Cup circuit. Her downside remains, especially last season, lack of speed on the range and tracks. Voigt uses up precious seconds hitting the targets and then is not fast enough to close the gap on the tracks. If she can improve her range times, keep the hit percentages high and ski 1% faster, Voigt’s 4th and 5th places will move up to the podium. Producing a day like second fastest range and sixth fastest course times in the WCH relay in an individual competition will do the trick.
The Experienced Franziska Preuss
Franziska Preuss basically had no 2022/23 season, just eight starts where she clearly was not at her best. After a long rest and medical evaluations, she is back with the team, a veteran with all the skills to make a huge difference. Keep in mind that Preuss owns 43 career podiums including all relays, previously finished third in the 2021 Total Score, is a very steady 86% shooter and can ski with the best ladies; see her second place in the 2022 Oslo mass start. A solid summer, meaning no setbacks could easily set her up for a season with multiple podiums, plus adding a solid relay leg that will keep the team very competitive. Preuss is the big question mark for the German ladies this season.
After these two ladies, the question of who can step up gets tricky, but based on last season and upsides, two names pop up, Kebinger and Hettich-Walz. Kebinger today looks like the star in the making. Her calling card is on the range with a gaudy 88% average, shooting equally well in prone and standing. 25th in the Total Score is a very respectable rookie season, especially noting that she finished in the top 20 on 15 occasions. She showed great poise with 8th and 12th in the pursuit and mass start and a solid second leg on the Silver medal Women’s relay at the tension-filled home IBU World Championships. Kebinger closed her season with a personal-best 4th in the Oslo mass start, going 19-for-20. Building on those successes means individual podiums and medals are realistic possibilities.
Janina Hettich-Walz came to the World Cup team after a win and second places in the Idre IBU Cup, so her season sample is smaller. She is a crack shot in prone, dropping 92% of her targets but is back in the 70s in standing. Her half dozen top 20s, with seventh and eighth places in the Antholz and Oslo sprints, show the potential. Just 20+ seconds back in those two sprints highlight her ski speed.
The multi-medaled Selina Grotian
Grotian has to be considered the long shot but she made such huge strides last season, that she could easily leapfrog into podium contention. An IBU Cup sprint win, the IBU OECH Pursuit Gold medal and four IBU Junior WCH Gold medals quickly put her talent into focus. Her shooting is typical for a junior level athlete, roughly 82%, but she is a strong skier, one of the best juniors on the tracks. The jump from very good IBU Cup/Junior to World Cup contender is a big leap, but not impossible, see Elvira Oeberg. A huge move by Grotian would be a huge boost for the German ladies.
No one will replace Herrmann-Wick, but this year’s German team will be fun to watch as they mature, improve and provide some surprises.
Photos: IBU/ Christian Manzoni, Per Danielsson