STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The sport of biathlon combined speed, stamina and nerves of steel to provide some of the most dramatic action at the Pyeongchang Games and, with many champions having since retired, fans can look forward to more of the same in Beijing.
Martin Fourcade (France, three gold medals in Pyeongchang) and Laura Dahlmeier (Germany, two gold, one bronze) have skied off into the sunset, leaving the field wide open for a slew of young, hungry competitors to make their mark.
“It’s a much more open men’s field than we have had in many years. I think it will be very close in the Olympics and I can think of at least 15 men who could win a medal,” Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson, who won gold in 2018, told Reuters.
Samuelsson was just 20 years old and part of a youthful Swedish team that brought home two gold and two silver medals from Pyeongchang and four years later he hopes they can put in another strong performance.
With outcomes in the sport often decided by fine margins and the last two seasons disrupted because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult to predict what will happen in China and the form book has gone out of the window.
Germany and France dominated the medals in Pyeongchang and are sending strong teams to Beijing, but the chasing pack are hot on their heels.
On the women’s side, Sweden’s Elvira Oeberg will be looking to follow the path of her older sister Hanna, who won gold in the 15km individual race and silver in the mixed relay in 2018.
She will face tough competition from Norwegian 31-year-old Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, who won two silver medals in Pyeongchang and is in a rich vein of form coming into the Games.
Roeiseland’s compatriot Johannes Boe is still capable of the stunning spurts of skiing that saw him win the men’s individual race in Pyeongchang, but the French heirs to Fourcade’s throne such as Quentin Fillon Maillet and Emellien Jacquelin will challenge him all the way.
One intriguing wild card in Beijing will be Sweden’s Stina Nilsson, who won gold in the individual cross-country skiing sprint in 2018 before making a shock switch to biathlon and snaring a spot on the Olympic team.
Her undoubted skiing prowess has been matched by an ever-improving shooting technique as she joins the rest of the new generation of sharp-shooters targeting Olympic gold in China.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)