May 25, 2024

Held back by Covid-19, will Lisa Vittozzi show her potential?

Last update: 02/06/2021

Lisa Vittozzi was born Pieve di Cadore, not far from Cortina d’Ampezzo, in Northern Italy.

Even as Lisa Vittozzi already has an impressive medal collection consisting of two silver medals from Biathlon World Championships, an Olympic bronze medal as well as two Biathlon World Championships bronze medals, there is every reason to believe that there is more to come and several pundits see her, Marketa Davidova and Elvira Oeberg as the most likely biathletes to dominate on the women’s side in a few years.

During the women’s relay of the 2015 Biathlon World Championships in Kontiolahti, just about a month after her 20th birthday, Lisa Vittozzi put in an impeccable relay leg for the Italian team. Rapidly hitting ten of ten, she was in fourth place at the first exchange, less than five seconds behind the leaders. Together with her team mates Karin Oberhofer, Nicole Gontier and Dorothea Wierer, Lisa Vittozzi picked up her first major medal, a relay bronze medal.

This was Lisa’s first major championships relay and her performance exceeded all expectations. However, astonishing relay legs would become something of a norm for Lisa. She has in our opinion, been the world’s very best female relay runner over the past 4-5 years.

So far her only Olympic medal is from the mixed relay of the 2018 games in Pyeongchang. In windy and difficult conditions, Lisa shot fast and flawlessly, hitting ten of ten. Breathtakingly Vittozzi only needed some 20-21 seconds to clear all the five prone targets. Such fast prone shooting is almost unheard of and allowed her to leave the range, in the lead, with a small gap even on the other teams hitting five of five.

Lisa cleared the five standing targets in about 20 seconds, and again left the range with a gap on the teams she had entered the range together with. Even as Marie Dorin Habert did not use any spare rounds and came in to shoot just behind Lisa, Dorin Habert was 16 seconds behind when she left the range.

At the first changeover, Vittozzi had the Italians in the lead ahead of a field of world class athletes. Her team mates Dorothea Wierer, Lukas Hofer and Dominik Windisch, all did well and in the end it was good enough for a bronze medal.

The snow was falling hard during the mixed relay of the 2019 Oestersund World Championship. Lisa yet again shot magnificently. She had cleared the prone targets in 19.8 seconds and were getting up to leave the range before most of the other athletes had even fired their first shot. The standings targets Vittozzi cleared in 19.9 seconds.

In an interview with NRK, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, who was closest to Vittozzi at the first changeover, said;

“It was truly shocking, she had hit all her targets and were getting up to leave the range just as I had found my shooting position.”

Some of the other members of the Norwegian team, which won the gold medals, were also impressed. Johannes Thingnes Boe said:

“She is simply the best first leg relay runner in the world! Hitting all the targets the fastest every time.”

Tiril Eckhoff said:

“Truly pure class! Really impressive that she has the guts to shoot this fast during a world championships.”

Commenting to NRK, Lisa Vittozzi said:

“I believe I have never shot faster during a competition. I shot this fast as I was trying to give my team mate, Dorothea Wierer, on the next leg an advantage. I am happy I did well. I try to stay focused and never get nervous, because I know I am capable of hitting the targets.”

Considering her shooting masterclass, the Italians would likely have had a larger lead after Lisa’s first leg, had it not been for the snowfall. After all, having to act as a snowplough for the rest of the field is hardly beneficial.

Fielding the same team as at the Olympics the year before, Italy again held on for a bronze medal.

In 2020 at the home World Championships in Antholz, Italy, Lisa yet again delivered in great style during her relay leg of the mixed relay. At the first changeover, Italy was in second place less than two seconds behind Norway. Vittozzi was racing the queen of the Antholz Championships on her first leg, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, who took five gold medals and seven medals in total, in the seven events that were open to her during Antholz 2019. Considering this, Lisa did really well to keep up with her and to send Wierer out on the second leg together with the Norwegians.

The Italian team, which was yet again made up of; Lisa Vittozzi, Dorothea Wierer, Lukas Hofer and Dominik Windisch, were in a fight with the Norwegian winners for more or less the entire race. Johannes Thingnes Boe and Dominik Windisch entered the shooting range together for the eighth and final shooting. However as the Norwegian got the targets down faster and left the range some 10 seconds ahead, the race was decided. Even so the Italian team picked up a silver medal.

Vittozzi’s only non-team medal is from the 15 km individual race of the Biathlon World Championships in Oestersund. Even as Lisa hit 20 of 20, she was still beaten into second place by the home favourite Hanna Oeberg, who also hit all of her shots.

Towards the end of the 2018/19 season, having recently celebrated her 24th birthday, Lisa was engaged in a very close contest with compatriot, Dorothea Wierer, for maybe the most coveted prize in Biathlon, the Big Crystal Globe. The Big Crystal Globe is awarded to the athlete winning the overall World Cup. In addition to this there are several smaller crystal globes for the winner of the various discipline world cups.

In the end Wierer won with 905 points to Vittozzi’s 882. A winning margin of 23 points does maybe not seem like such a tight race, however coming in to the last three races of the season in Oslo’s famous Holmenkollen, the two Italians were deadlocked at 852 points each. Wierer won as Vittozzi did not perform well in the last three races of the season. Still Vittozzi walked away with some kind of consolation prize in the form of a small globe as she won the 15 km individual cup of the 2018/19 season.

There are some controversies about the duel between the two Italians for the 2018/19 overall World Cup. Towards the end of 2019 World Championships, Lisa Vittozzi was racing in the yellow bib as the World Cup leader. After the women’s relay there would be four more opportunities to score World Cup points. The Mass Start of the World Championships as well as the three last races of the season, in Oslo.

Based on the initial lineup, Italy was a medal contender in the women’s relay. However, a late change was made to the Italian team as Dorothea Wierer was replaced by Alexia Runggaldier. This weakened the Italian team substantially, and arguably provided an advantage in the World Cup race to Dorothea Wierer who, fully rested, the next day won the women’s mass start and pulled even with Vittozzi in the overall World Cup, as Vittozzi finished in eighth.

Based on an interview Lisa Vittozzi gave in Italian to Messaggero Veneto ahead of the 2020 World Championships in Antholz, it seems that Wierer had the coaches blessing to sit out the relay and that this felt unfair to Vittozzi as she and Wierer were engaged in a fierce battle for the overall World Cup at the time.

Aged 23 Lisa had finished sixth in the overall World Cup and at 24, she had finished in second place. The recent winner Dorothea Wierer, would be 29 before the start of the next season and the athlete in third place, Anastasiya Kuzmina, would be 35. Based on this it was not at all hard to make the case that Lisa Vittozzi would be one of the main contenders in the years to come. However, considering how good Lisa Vittozzi had been during the 2018/19 season the next couple of seasons would turn out to be disappointments.

She finished in tenth place overall in the 2019/20 season. Even if tenth is far from bad in a competitive sport like biathlon, it was a big step back compared with her two previous seasons.

During the 2020/21 season Lisa dropped further and finished in 16th in the overall World Cup.

Based on these last two seasons it seems some people believe that Lisa is regressing as a biathlete and that she will never be able to live up to her prodigious results from some years ago. However, we disagree and believe that Lisa Vittozzi will deliver great results in the years to come.

SeasonWorld Cup RankWorld PointsMajor Medals
2019/202010528 World Championships 2020 Antholz: Mixed Relay
2018/20192882 World Championships 2019 Oestersund: Individual
World Championships 2019 Oestersund: Mixed Relay
2017/20186588 Winter Olympics 2018 Mixed Relay

The main driver of Lisa’s worsening results the past two seasons has been her shooting accuracy. During Lisa’s first five seasons on the World Cup circuit she shot really well. Every one of those seasons she had a hit rate between 85 and 90 percent. For the 2014/15 season she hit about 87 percent of her targets. Next season her hit rate was around 89 percent. Than it hovered around 87 percent for the next two seasons. During the 2018/19 season when she was in contention for the overall World Cup win, she hit some 88 percent of the targets. However during the 2019/20 season her shooting took a turn for the worse and she only hit approximately 80 percent of the time. Last season she was able to resurrect her standing accuracy and bring it close to what it had been during her first five seasons, hitting some 85-86 percent of her shots, but the prone shooting went haywire. Most athletes are able to achieve a somewhat decent hit rate when shooting prone, but Lisa only managed to hit some 70-71 percent in her prone shooting during the 2020/21 season. During her first four seasons in the World Cup her prone shooting had never dropped below 85 percent.

During her best season, the 2018/2019 season, Vittozzi had an average shooting time of about 28 seconds, the last two seasons she has spent on average approximately 29 seconds shooting. Furthermore her skiing speed, if compared with her closest competitors, has only dropped very marginally. The reality is that as she is not skiing or shooting much slower than during the 2018/19 season, when she was a world beater, all Lisa really has to do to get back to her winning ways is to fix her prone shooting.

We find it a lot more likely that she will be able to bring her prone accuracy up around the 85 to 90 percent level where it was from 2014 to 2019, than that she will fail to do so. As the prone shooting accuracy really was the only missing piece to her puzzle last year, we are confident that she again will be a contender for the overall World Cup going forward.

As Lisa has gotten older and been able to put in more training it would be counterintuitive if she will not be able to eventually ski even faster than she did when she was at her best a few years ago.

If you try to look behind the results, you will find that there are good reasons why Vittozzi’s performance did drop. In several interviews, Lisa has made clear that she has had a ton of issues the last few years. Likely the most serious of these, which we highlighted in an article in January 2021, is that Lisa fell ill with Covid-19 just as the 2020/21 season was about to get underway.

Lisa had felt really good in the run up to the season, but in early November after a training camp in Oberhof, Germany, when she was back home in Italy, she tested positive for Covid-19. She had to stay at home for 19 long days and had several symptoms like; sinusitis, headaches, bone pain, back pain as well as not tasting the different flavors.

Covid-19 is obviously a very serious disease and several athletes like the cross country skier Sergey Ustiugov and biathletes like the Fialkova sisters have shown that even for super-fit sport stars, the ramifications can be severe. In mid-January almost two months after Lisa started racing, she told NRK that she was still struggling with the after-effects of Covid-19:

“- It is very difficult for me because I feel tired every day. I lack energy and my body does not feel good. It is very tough.”

That Lisa would have performed better if she had avoided her bout with Covid-19 seems more than likely. It is entirely plausible that her 16th place finish in the overall, all things considered, truly is a great achievement.

Before the start of the 2019/20 season, Lisa featured in the IBU TV’s Youtube series; Women on the rise.

Growing up she was playing football in the boy’s team, eventually she would try cross country skiing and aged 13 she added shooting to the skiing and became a biathlete.

Lisa Vittozzi was superb as a junior athlete. During the 2013 Youth World Championships in Obertilliach, Austria, she picked up a silver medal in the 6 km sprint. The next year in Presque Isle, USA, she was the star of the event winning two golds, 6 km sprint and 7.5 km pursuit, as well as a silver in the 10 km individual.

In an interview with Gazetta dello Sport, Lisa among other things told that:

“Football was her first love

Her favourite places to compete in biathlon, outside of Italy, is Oslo/Holmenkollen, because she is in love with Norway and Ruhpolding, Germany, which has really nice facilities for training even during summer.

She is not particularly fond of shopping and most of her friends are male as she finds that men often are simpler and more spontaneous than women

She does not feel a need to prove her femininity and as a child she used to ask her mother why she had not been born a boy

She loves pizza”

Lisa surely has the skill set to bring home a gold medal from a major championship. Maybe her time will come during the 2022 Beijing Olympics?

The 2026 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo will be a home Olympics for Lisa Vittozzi. She will just have turned 31 when the event will start. The Biathlon races of the 2026 Olympics will be held in stunningly beautiful Antholz-Anterselva. Even if we hope Lisa will stay with the sport much beyond 2026, the Cortina Olympics has the potential to be a spectacular swansong for Lisa.

Mathis Brorstad

Mathis Brorstad

Mathis Brorstad is a Norwegian freelance writer. He is mainly covering Athletics, Biathlon and other Winter Sports. In the past he has done work on odds and probabilities.

View all posts by Mathis Brorstad →

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