Norway versus rest of the world
Next week, over half a million Norwegians will follow the live TV broadcasts from the IBU World Championships 2021 in biathlon, which will be held in Pokljuka in Slovenien. This is not least due to the fact that both the female and male biathletes from Norway have been very dominated in this season’s World Cups, where there have been 21 victories in 40 races, i.e. the Norwegian biathletes have won more than half of the World Cup races. The Norwegian biathletes’ performance is completely unique in a sport which – in addition to Norway – is dominated by European countries such as France, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Italy, Austria and Belarus.
Biathlon is one of the most popular winter sports
Biathlon is a fascinating and extremely demanding sport, which consists of the ski discipline cross-country skiing and precision shooting with a rifle. The combination of many different skills of biathletes – endurance, speed, strategy, precision and concentration – has meant that biathlon, especially in recent years, has developed into one of the most popular winter sports. World Cups like in Oberhof and Ruhpolding in Germany, Hochfilzen in Austria, Anholz in Italy and Holmenkollen in Norway today attract more than 40,000 spectators – in addition to millions of TV viewers from around the world. Biathlon is on the Olympic program with a total of 11 disciplines: 5 for each gender (sprint, pursuit, mass start, individual and relay) and one mix relay with two biathletes of each gender. All disciplines are characterized by the biathletes running several laps over a certain distance – typically between 7.5 km and 20 km – and several times along the track the biathletes fire 5 shots at 50 meters, either in a lying or standing position. The diameter of the disc is 45 millimeters for lying shooting and 115 millimeters for standing shooting.
Johannes Thingnes Boe – on the way to legend status after Bjoerndalen and Fourcarde
Johannes Thingnes Boe, who was born and raised in Stryn in Western Norway as the youngest of a sibling group of five, already showed as a junior a unique talent as a biathlete. Boe won 3 gold medals at the World Championship for juniors in 2012 and already the following season he won his first World Cup victory, qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and achieved a impressing 3’rd place in the overall World Cup. Subsequently, the 27-year-old Norwegian has been one of the world’s best biathletes with 3 Olympic medals, 20 World Championship medals and no less than 52 World Cup victories. However, it was not until the 2018-2019 season that the sympathetic Norwegian managed to win the overall World Cup ahead of the French legend – Martin Fourcarde, who won the World Cup 7 seasons in a row. However, for the past two seasons Johannes Thingnes Boe has been by far the most winning biathlete and especially his 6 World Championship medals – 3 gold and 3 silver – at last year’s World Championship in Antholz were of a historic performance.
The four best biathletes in the overall World Cup are Norwegians
Also this season, Johannes Thingnes Boe is the favorite to win the overall World Cup and most World Championship medals, but he is strongly challenged by three other Norwegians: Big brother 32-year-old Tarjei Boe, Johannes Dale and not least the season’s biggest surprise: Sturla Holm Laegreid. The 23-year-old Laegreid has already in his first international season won no less than 4 individual races and in addition achieved 3 podium places, which currently. gives a 2’nd place in the overall World Cup. At first glance, it is difficult to find biathletes from other nations who can seriously threaten the four Norwegians, who after 15 of the season’s 26 individual races are placed in the top four places in the overall World Cup. I believe that the duel for the overall World Cup will only be decided between Boe and Laegreid in the last race of the season: Sunday 21 March 2021 at Holmenkollen in Oslo. In my opinion, the sovereign Norwegian biathletes can in the battle for World Championship medals be challenged by the two Frenchmen – Quentin Fillon Mailet and Emilie Jacquelin – Arnd Peiffer from Germany, the two Swedes – Sebastian Samuelsen and Martin Ponsiluoma – and the Russian Alexander Loginov, who has previously been banned for 2 years due to doping, and the veteran Jakov Fak, who has advantage of home at the World Championship.
Marte Olsbu Røiseland – “Champion of Champions 2020”
Marte Olsbu Røiseland, who comes from Arendal in the southern part of Norway, has, like Johannes Thingnes Boe, seriously in the last three seasons marked herself as the world’s best female biathlete. Olsbu Røiseland already made her debut in the World Cup back in the season 2012-2013, but for several seasons she had a very hard time achieving top 10 places, both at the World Cup and the World Championships. At the IBU World Championship 2020, however, 30-year-old Olsbu Røiseland became a major international breakthrough. She became the first biathlete ever to win 7 World Championship medals – 5 gold and 2 bronze – out of 7 possible. A fantastic performance, which led to the selection of Olsbu Røiseland as the world’s best female athlete in 2020 – “Champion of Champions” – by the French sports magazine “L ‘Equipe”.
Olsbu Røiseland, Eckhof or Oeberg win the overall World Cup
Olsbu Røiseland has won a total of 2 Olympic medals, 12 World Championship medals and 8 World Cup victories. And now all indications are that for the first time in her career she has good chances of winning the overall World Cup. Among Olsbu Røiseland’s worst competitors for both the World Championship medals and the overall World Cup is her friend and training partner Tiril Eckhof, who is currently occupies 2’nd place in the overall World Cup – only 8 points behind Olsbu Røiseland. Also Hanne Oeberg from Sweden, who is currently occupying 3’rd place in the overall World Cup – only one point behind Eckhof – is a serious threat for Olsbu Røiseland, both in the World Cup and for the World Championship medals. Also among the women, I believe that the winner of the World Cup will only be found between Olsbu Røiseland, Eckhof and Øberg in the last race of the season – Sunday 21 March 2021 – at Holmenkollen in Oslo. Candidates for next week’s World Championship medals include Dorthea Wierer from Italy, Lisa Theresa Hauser from Austria, Franziska Preuss from Germany and Julia Simon from France. In particular, Simon and Hauser showed impressive form at the recent World Cup in Antholz.
IBU World Championship 2021 as a benchmark for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games
The upcoming World Championship will also give signals about the individual biathletes and nations’ potential at next year’s Winter Olympic Games, which will take place in Beijing in the period February 4 – 20, 2022. There is no doubt that the most medal candidates for the world’s strongest winter sports nation – Norway – must be found in biathlon. World-class athletes such as Johannes and Tarjei Boe, Dale and Laegreid in the men competitions as well as Olsbu Røiseland, Eckhof and Tandrevold in the women competitions will be exponents of a large number of Olympic medals and in my opinion also significantly more than the 6 Olympic medals – of which “only” one of gold – which Norway won at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
You can find relevant information about biathlon on the following websites:
- International Biathlon Union – https://www.biathlonworld.com
- TV2 Sport – https://play.tv2.dk/programmer/sport/oevrig-sport/skiskydning