Last season’s editions of the BMW IBU Biathlon Overall World Cups were gripping and exceptionally tight. The races for both men and women went to the wire and were not decided until the very last races organized, when the Corona virus put a premature end to the proceedings. In the end Dorothea Wierer got the better of Tiril Eckhoff by seven points and Johannes Thingnes Boe defeated Martin Fourcade by just two points.
Wierer, the eventual overall world cup winner, had the rare opportunity of excelling at a proper home World Championships. The Antholz 2020 World Championships were not only held in her home country, she lives and grew up just a few kilometers from the stadium in Antholz. To be able to deliver in such spectacular fashion during such circumstances must have felt truly awesome.
Her medal haul, consisting of two gold medals, won in the 10 km pursuit and 15 km individual races as well as two silver medals from the mixed relay and 12.5 km mass start, was truly an immense achievement.
Eckhoff, having excelled in the world cup, was one of the main pre-championships favourites. However, only a few weeks before the start of Antholz 2020, she suffered a setback.
Coming in to the last round of the world cup before Antholz 2020, in Pokljuka, Slovenia, Eckhoff did not feel well. As she was leading the overall world cup and racing in the yellow jersey, she decided to start anyway. After finishing a disappointing 18th in the 15 km individual race on January 24th, she regretted having started and decided to go back to Norway to prepare for Antholz. Consequently she sat out the 12.5 km mass start two days later.
Even so the World Championships started on a high as Tiril Eckhoff, together with the Boe brothers and Marte Olsbu Roiseland, won the very first event, the mixed relay. She even picked up another gold medal with her team-mates in the women’s relay. However, in the non-team events she did not finish better than 7th, which she achieved in the 12.5 km mass start, on the last day of the Championships.
Outside of the World Championships, Wierer won two world cup races, the 7.5 km sprint in Oestersund and the 7.5 km sprint in Hochfilzen.
Eckhoff won seven races, the 10 km pursuit in Hochfilzen, the 7.5 km sprint, 10 km pursuit and 12.5 km mass start races in Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, the 7.5 km sprint and 10 km pursuit in Ruhpolding and the 12.5 km mass start in Nove Mesto.
Considering that Eckhoff won seven races to Wierer’s four, some find it surprising that Wierer prevailed and defended her large crystal bowl from the 2018-19 season, but there are some clear cut reasons behind Wierer’s narrow victory.
Marte Olsbu Roiseland, who won seven medals and five golds, planned her entire season around the World Championships. As a consequence she did not take part in several world cup races. Dorothea Wierer on the other hand took part in every non-team world cup race of the season. To do every race, leading up to the only home World Championships of your career, was testament to her devotion. It is entirely plausible that resting and missing even one single race could have led to a failure to defend her overall world cup.
The main driver behind Wierer narrowly besting Eckhoff in the overall, was her greater consistency. On average Eckhoff is a substantially faster skier, but Wierer compensates by shooting both faster and more accurately. Considering the particular skill sets of these athletes, it should be expected that Eckhoff both will win and have bad races more often than Wierer. This does not have to do with her being a worse or better athlete, but is just an artefact of her skill set. When Eckhoff shoots well she has a good chance of winning, when she shoots poorly she will often score few points or no points at all.
Based on the above it should not be surprising that Eckhoff won more races, but scored fewer points. Even so there are some who dislike the way the IBU have organized their scoring system. The federation in charge of most other skiing sports, FIS, have adopted a rather different scoring system for the world cups they organize.
FIS’s system have much greater differences in the points score between the very best positions and places further down the rankings, than the one employed by the IBU. Furthermore the IBU will not allow the athletes to keep all of the points they have scored, if they have gotten points from almost all the races. In this case some point scores will need to be scratched. For the 2019-20 season, any athlete who had scored points in all the races had to scratch two of them. For the 2020-21 season four races will have to be scratched in such scenarios. FIS does not require any races to be scratched.
As these two points systems are rather different, we have put together a table below, highlighting how the female biathletes would have been ranked at the end of the 2019-20 season, if the IBU would not have required any point scores to be scratched and/or if the IBU had utilized the FIS world cup scoring table.
|IBU method with 2 scratches||IBU method without scratches||FIS method|
As you can see the difference between scratching races and not scratching races would have been very small on the women’s side. However, using the FIS system would have meant that Eckhoff would have won by a sizable margin.
The point of this exercise is not to suggest that Eckhoff deserved to win, I think that both Wierer and Eckhoff had splendid seasons and personally I have no objections or issues whatsoever with the fact that Wierer defended her title.
The only reason for displaying the table above, is to show that how the different finish positions are scored, can have a profound effect on the final outcome and that FIS and the IBU have rather different ways of doing this. I am not saying that one system is better than the other, all I am saying is that it is slightly surprising how different these scoring tables are and that this in itself is a bit surprising to me.
We have simulated the entire 2020-21 season and based on our simulations Wierer is favoured to defend her large crystal bowl for a third time, even if we think that she has less than a 50 percent chance of doing so.
If you have any thoughts or opinions about the world cup point scoring table, it would be great if you would leave a comment below.