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Biathlon: the French team is “more unpredictable, with incredible medal potential”

“I can’t wait for the season to resume! ” On October 4, during the presentation of the French teams, in Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube), the national technical director of the French Ski Federation, Fabien Saguez, longed for the launch of a winter, whose point d he organ will be the Beijing Olympics, from February 4 to 20, 2022. After freestyle skiers, alpine skiers and snowboarders, it is now the turn of biathletes to officially find the track and the shooting range on Saturday November 27 and Sunday 28, for the first stop of the World Cup in Oestersund, Sweden.

A traditional preseason competition, and a sort of dress rehearsal for the best international biathletes, the races in Sjusjoen, Norway, on November 13 and 14, foreshadowed good prospects for the Blues. Julia Simon allowed herself the luxury of beating the Norwegians Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Tiril Eckhoff, winner of the last World Cup, in the sprint event, thanks to a 10 out of 10 shooting – the Frenchwoman is the only member of the top 5 to have signed such a performance. Chloé Chevalier, she distinguished herself on the mass-start with a second place behind the Norwegian Ingrid Tandrevold. Quentin Fillon Maillet and Emilien Jacquelin offered a podium, finishing second and third respectively in the men’s mass-start, won by the Norwegian Tarjei Boe.

At the start of this season, several French biathletes have made no secret of it: they already have their eyes on China. “It’s been three years since I finished third in the general classification [de la Coupe du monde], with five medals at the last three world championships… I’m not going to lie, the goal is to get gold in Beijing ”, confided Quentin Fillon-Maillet, in October.

Olympic bronze medalist in South Korea in 2018 in the women’s relay, vice-world champion in sprint and third in pursuit in 2021, Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet, too, could well see herself on the podium in February: “I have the experience now, I have the maturity to approach the Games with the ambition to seek medals also individually. “

After a year 2020-2021 concluded with a second world title in a row in pursuit and a seventh place in the World Cup standings, Emilien Jacquelin, he would have played well this season the general of the World Cup, eager to “To gain in regularity”. Victim of a fractured radius during the summer, the Isérois finally decided to focus on the Games and the fourth stage of the World Cup, in Grand-Bornand (Haute-Savoie), in mid-December.

Read also: Emilien Jacquelin once again king of the pursuit

“Incredible medal potential”

In Beijing, the French biathlon will be among the most closely scrutinized. Since Albertville (Savoie) in 1992, the Habs have accumulated twenty-five medals in this discipline, including nine in gold. The discipline was again the largest medal provider for the national delegation at the Games in South Korea in 2018 – five of the fifteen gleaned during this edition.

The Blue will receive all the more attention, as the team is totally “transformed” after the departure of its tutelary figure, the five-time Olympic champion, Martin Foucade, who hung up the skis in 2020. “From a team around a leader with three gold medals in Pyeongchang, we moved on to a more unpredictable team but with incredible medal potential, for both girls and boys”, argues Fabien Saguez.

Read also: The difficult succession of Martin Fourcade among the Blues

The first meetings of the World Cup circuit will make it possible to assess the state of form of a collective that the director of French biathlon, Stéphane Bouthiaux, considers relatively “Homogeneous” : “Quentin [Fillon Maillet] was the best last season, but Emilien [Jacquelin] was world champion and Simon [Desthieux], he made individual medals at Worlds for the first time in his career. They are all on an equal footing, on the attack of the new season. In women, it’s the same. “

However, he warns of the temptation to bet everything on the Beijing deadline. Due to restrictions linked to the health crisis, French biathletes did not have the opportunity to travel to China to discover the Hualindong Ski Resort, which will host the Olympic events.

The competition conditions are announced there “Very difficult” with freezing temperatures and a strong wind. “We have a few videos of the site to get to project ourselves, it’s new. Usually, the preparation can be adapted during the summer. There, we have none of that “, summarized Simon Desthieux, a hundred days before the opening ceremony of the Games.

Julia Simon, at the World Cup mass-start event in Oberhof, Germany on January 17.

Biathletes expect disturbances that can strongly affect their shooting. One of the components of the discipline in which the confidence parameter is decisive in obtaining results. “However, this confidence can only be acquired by performing well beforehand”, insists Stéphane Bouthiaux.

The French will benefit from seven of the ten World Cup stages before the Olympics to assess themselves. Until then, another date will be particularly close to their hearts: the round of December 16 and 17, in front of their audience in Le Grand-Bornand.

“If the whole season goes well, we are sure that these two events will go well too”, summarizes the director of the tricolor biathlon. A vision shared by Simon Desthieux: “To arrive in the best possible conditions in Beijing, the ideal is to have made the podiums before. “ And why not, to have already stored up some victories.

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