The 2020/2021 winter sports season was affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Races were cancelled, athletes missed competitions after testing positive, and no fans could watch the events live. Let’s see what happened in two of the most beloved winter sports - alpine skiing and biathlon.
Alpine Skiing is a winter sport where you slide down a slope and aim to achieve the fastest time. There are four main disciplines: downhill, super-G, giant slalom, and slalom. There are three other events - alpine combined, parallel slalom, and a Nations team event. The difference between them is the speed and technique. For example, the downhill and super-G are speed events, while the giant slalom and slalom are known as technical events and the speed is lower.
This season, Alexis Pinturault won the Overall Globe. His main rival from the previous season, Alexander Aamodt Kilde, tore his ACL in January and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Following Kilde’s injury, Pinturault was expected to easily win the Overall Globe. However, an unlikely challenger appeared in the face of Swiss Marco Odermatt. The difference between the two was just 31 points before the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Pinturault had 1,100 points, compared to Odermatt’s 1,069.
Unfortunately, not everything was decided on the slopes as the Downhill and Super G were canceled because of weather conditions. Odermatt is better at the speed events and their cancellation meant that his chances for the Overall Globe practically disappeared, as Pinturault excels in the technical events. The discipline globes went to Beat Feuz for the fourth consecutive time in the downhill, Marco Schwarz in the slalom, and Pinturault in the giant slalom.
The World Championships were held in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy. Vincent Kriechmayer from Austria won the downhill and super-G competitions (he was also victorious in the super-G globe in the World Cup). Frenchman Mathieu Faivre was victorious in the parallel and giant slaloms, while the slalom went to the Norwegian Sebastian Foss-Solevaag. Marco Schwarz won the Alpine Combined and the Nations team event went to Norway.
On the women’s side, Lara Gut-Behrami and Petra Vlhova were fighting for the Overall Globe and the difference between the two was less than 100 points before the World Cup finals. Gut-Behrami had 1,246 points, while Vlhova had 1,342. The cancellation of the speed events tilted the scales in Vlhova’s favour.
At the World Championships, the gold medal in the downhill went to Corrine Suter. Gut-Behrami won two gold medals in the super-G and giant slalom, and one bronze in the downhill. American Michaela Shiffrin won medals in all four competitions she competed in – gold in the alpine combined, silver in the giant slalom, and bronzes in the slalom and super G. Katharina Liensberger was victorious in the slalom and parallel slalom, where she shared first place with Marta Bassino. The Austrian talent also won the discipline globe in the slalom. The other discipline globes went to Sofia Goggia in the downhill, Gut-Behrami in the super-G, and Bassino in the giant slalom.
Biathlon is a winter sport that combines rifle shooting and cross-country skiing. There are seven main disciplines: individual, mass start, mixed relay, single mixed relay, sprint, pursuit, and relay.
In the women’s field, Tiril Eckhoff was the standout performer as she achieved 13 wins, which is the second-most wins ever in a season for a female. Only Magdalena Forsberg’s 14 in 2000/2001 bests her tally. Eckhoff also won six medals in seven disciplines, four of which gold, at the World Championships held in Pokljuka, Slovenia. She won the big Crystal Globe and the discipline titles in the sprint, where she achieved the record seven straight victories, and the pursuit. In the World Cup Total Score, Eckhoff’s compatriot Marte Olsbu Roiseland finished second while German Franziska Preuss finished third, ahead of Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg.
As for the other discipline titles, Italian Dorothea Wierer and Austrian Lisa Theresa Hauser were joint winners of the globe in the individual, while Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold won the World Cup Mass Start Score Globe after achieving her first career victory in the last race of the season in Ostersund, Sweden. Belarusian Dzinara Alimbekava was the best athlete under 25 and finished the season with the Blue Bib.
During the World Championships, Hauser and Marketa Davidova of the Czech Republic both won their first gold medals from a World Championship, in the mass start and the individual, respectively.
In the men’s field, the battle between Norwegians Johannes Thingnes Boe and Sturla Holm Laegreid for the World Cup Total Score title lasted until the last race. Boe came out on top with only 13 points, winning the big Crystal Globe for the third consecutive season, a feat previously achieved only by Frank Ulrich, Raphael Poiree, and Martin Fourcade. Boe also won the World Cup Sprint Score Globe.
For Laegreid the campaign was extremely successful as this was his first full season in the World Cup. He had four gold medals at the World Championships and won the discipline globes in the individual and the pursuit. Frenchman Quentin Fillon Maillet finished third in the fight for the big Crystal Globe, ahead of Tarjei Boe, who won the World Cup Mass Start Score Globe.
Alpine Skiing and Biathlon in Bulgaria
In both sports, Bulgaria has traditions that are being kept alive today. Biathlon brought Bulgaria its only gold medal from the Winter Olympics. This happened in 1998 in Nagano when Ekaterina Dafovska won the individual. In the last round of the season, Milena Todorova and Valentin Iliev both finished in the top 10 in the sprint competitions.
In alpine skiing, Albert Popov followed his impressive 2019/2020 season with another solid campaign. His best result this season was sixth place in Schladming, with him being two points away from taking part in the World Cup final in Lenzerheide in the slalom competition. Petar Popangelov is the only Bulgarian alpine skier who has a victory in the World Cup.
The Winter Olympic Games in 2022 are supposed to be held in Beijing, China, and will be the main focus for most athletes next year. They are the most important forum and a medal from such an event would be an incredible achievement for most athletes.
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