One year before the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Bleu (s) are leaving Pokljuka on a rather satisfactory record despite major deficiencies in the ladies and the clear domination of Norway.
How to succeed after Martin Fourcade? How to manage the retirement of the best biathlete in history? These questions, the management of the France team have never stopped asking themselves over a sluggish start to the season collectively, both from a male point of view, the main concerned by the end of career of Fourcade, that female. So much so that when we arrived in Pokljuka two weeks ago, no one was sure about each other’s ability to shine. Finally, with seven medals including two in gold (Emilien Jacquelin in pursuit, Julia Simon-Antonin Guigonnat in single mixed relay), France does not have to be ashamed of its fortnight. Last year, they had done little better at Anterselva with 8 podiums, including two solo for Fourcade (gold in the Individual and bronze in the sprint). Nevertheless, there remains a damaging feeling of unfinished business about the score made by some of its members in Slovenia.
Quentin Fillon-Maillet, the insufficient leader
Arrived in Pokljuka with the ambition, assumed, to win the first world title of his career individually, Quentin Fillon Maillet experienced extremely frustrating Worlds. Before winning the bronze medal this Sunday during the mass start, the Jurassian had indeed collected the awards in… chocolate, as is the formula for designating 4th place, that of the athlete at the foot of the podium. A medal during the last race which somewhat saves his balance sheet, as he frankly admitted: “It is not the color that I expected but there is still satisfaction today (Sunday). I didn’t give myself an ultimatum to get a podium but I still wanted to finish with a smile. A large part of the team had been medalists, I wanted to be too. Overall, these Worlds were good, apart from the errors on the shots on the prone. I’m happy with my physical shape, that’s what I expected since the start of the season. ” Always placed, but never a winner: here is the formula that best sums up the competition experienced by a Quentin Fillon Maillet who has not passed through, but who still lacks the little spark that turns a race into gold.
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Emilien Jacquelin, a tremendous feat, but …
The little spark, Jacquelin, he got it, and in what way. His performance during the pursuit will remain as the masterpiece of the competition. Thanks to supersonic standing shots (17 seconds each time without missing a single target), the native of Grenoble disgusted the competition, including world number 1 Johannes Boe, to retain his title, imitating his model Martin Fourcade, the only French to have achieved this feat in the past (2011-2012, 2016-2017). The Isérois, a fan of direct confrontation events, had made this race his main objective and he was exact at the rendezvous with that panache and taste for risk that characterize him. It now has to acquire more consistency and regularity to also be able to shine throughout the season and one day run for the big crystal globe. “To reproduce these exploits, he will have to flesh out his game. Otherwise he will be an athlete of blows throughout his career,” said Martin Fourcade, interviewed by AFP. The seven-time World Cup winner has put his finger where it hurts since Jacquelin quickly fell back into his ways by exploding during the mass start, buckled in last position after a total collapse on his 2nd prone shot (5 errors) .
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A title won by team
Beyond its two leaders, the French men’s team draws a rather positive assessment of these Worlds. “Overall, they are very, very good Worlds,” said Vincent Vittoz, the coach of the Blues. “We have four out of five medalist boys. They each had their moment of glory, we also had places of honor, we can see that we are not far away. ” As such, the silver medal of a Simon Desthieux overall in the hard since the start of the season remains an excellent surprise, which confirms the density of the blue-white-red collective. With nevertheless the regret of having finished at the foot of the podium during the relay, thus letting slip the title conquered a year before with Martin Fourcade. “We were aiming much better than that”, admitted Fillon Maillet to the Dauphiné Libéré. “We imagined at least one podium. Individually, we have all had great races since the start of these Worlds and I expected us to go faster, to put the balls in, to play in front on the skis. In the end, it didn’t turn out like that, so yes, there is a strong disappointment. “
Blue women saved by Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet
Among the ladies, the picture is more contrasted. The zero point of last year in Anterselva is erased but the two individual charms of Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet (the silver of the sprint and the bronze of the pursuit) hide (badly) the overall inadequacies of the group. “There are clearings in the fog and Anaïs has masked the weaknesses of the team”, agrees Stéphane Bouthiaux, the boss of the French biathlon. Before starting an Olympic season, it becomes urgent to resolve the major shooting concerns, which have become recurrent this winter. With only two clears since the start of the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the situation is clear. The lack of stability, with four shooting coaches in four years, is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the collective failure of the France team in this crucial exercise.
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A failure symbolized by the very disappointing 16e Julia Simon’s place during the mass start, a test where she aims for the crystal globe in the World Cup with her two successes this season. “I am inevitably disappointed, she commented after the race. “It’s sad to finish the World Championships in this place, especially because of one shot. I hope this race will serve me well for the future. I messed up a first shot, but there is not everything to throw behind and I finish in a fairly decent place. It could have been a lot worse. ” Simon has certainly failed in solo, but the gold won in a single mixed relay with Antonin Guigonnat is already enough for his happiness. “The individual record is disappointing but I come back with a title, it will not be taken away from me.” Certainly, but this observation still lacks ambition for a young woman who, at 24, has the talent to aim high. Much higher, instead of being satisfied with little.
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Seven titles in 12 races: Norway once again reigned supreme at the Worlds to fly over the medal ranking for the 3rd consecutive edition. The Scandinavians were able to count on a great Tiril Eckhoff, who left with four coronations (mixed relay, sprint, pursuit, relay) and is heading inexorably towards winning his first big crystal globe. Among men, if Johannes Boe has finally surprisingly remained empty-handed solo, Sturla Holm Laegreid has set him a date for the future. At 24 years old, the revelation of the season has once again displayed his immense shooting skills by winning the Individual and the mass start for his baptism of fire at the World Championships. He promises to be the future crack of the circuit. “He’s a very mature athlete for his age,” says Martin Fourcade. I find a lot of similarities between him and me in his attitude when it comes to shooting. He really isn’t stereotypical. In shooting, he is at a level that could allow him to dominate for a few years. He already has this maturity that I had at over 30 with ten years of World Cup experience. “