German Team: Stars, Rookies, and Returnees
|28.11.2011, Muonio / Jerry Kokesh|
|Goal: To Stay on Top|
|With Kati Wilhelm, Martina Beck, and Simone Hauswald retired, the ever-deep German women again won the Nations Cup title again last season while the men finished second. As the new season approaches head Coach Uwe Müßiggang expects nothing less once again. “Of course our goal is to win the Nation’s Cup again. When you did that last season you can’t go and say we only want to be second or third this year.”|
That pretty much sums up how the German team is approaching the new season that includes the much anticipated home IBU World Championships in Ruhpolding next March; nothing other than the top spots is acceptable or expected.
The women’s chances are probably a bit better than the men’s, but both teams are quite strong once again, due to what will be a mixture of the older established stars like Magdalena Neuner, Andrea Henkel, Michael Greis and Arnd Peiffer, rookies like Nadine Horchler, Franziska Hildebrand, and a few who are back at the top level after absence for a while. The men’s team is filled with returnees like the Simon Schempp who was out all last season, as well as former World Cup competitors Daniel Graf and Michael Rösch who worked hard to get up to the top level once again.
Henkel and Neuner
The women really did not miss a beat last season, after the retirement of the three veterans. Henkel battled for the World Cup Total Score title, eventually finishing second. Neuner finished fifth but could have taken the title had she not missed a few competitions. The “back-ups” after those two show the strength that characterizes the German women. Miriam Gössner finished 14th; Tina Bachmann finished 19th and Kathrin Hitzer 20th.
Müßiggang expects the energetic Gössner to take another step this season after her sterling debut which included a pair of second place finishes in Östersund. “We expect of Miri to stabilize her performances after the really good results last season and we expect her to be consistently on the team. Of course she will still have some ups and downs, but that’s biathlon and in part also what makes the sport attractive. However, she showed that she can fight for the win in every competition she starts.” His confidence is well earned as it will only take a tweak in her shooting for the speedy Gössner to fly to the top of the podium this season.
Training in Obertilliach
As far as Neuner and Henkel go, more of the same or better than last year is probably in the cards. Neuner did not make the team excursion to dark, rainy Muonio with the other women, instead training in Obertilliach. By staying out of northern Finland, she probably saved several trips to the team doctor, as that kind of weather has always hindered her early season. Müßiggang said, “Lena is doing fine this year, she is well and fit and feels good with her decision to stay home.”
Should the amazing Neuner stay healthy, a fistful of World Championships medals and the World Cup total Score title are realistic goals. Continuing, Müßiggang added, “Of course, winning the Overall World Cup Score is something she formulated as her goal and I think she can do it.”
The other important key for the German women is Henkel. She was on the podium 8 times last season including two victories in the sprint and pursuit in the Fort Kent World Cup. Finishing in the top 15 in 21 of the 26 opportunities resulted in the second best season of the about-to-be 34-year-old’s career. She has been plagued by nagging injuries most of the summer, but still has not missed significant time. Müßiggang summed up her situation. “Andrea’s problems vary from day to day, sometimes they are gone completely and sometimes they still flare up. But she will definitely start next week.” As long as Henkel is on the starting line, she will be battling all the way to the finish and chasing the podium.
The German men’s team is a bit more of a question mark, but has plenty of firepower. Sprint World Champion Peiffer finished fourth in the World Cup Total Score last season, while Greis was sixth. Add in Andi Birnbacher, in 14th with the first World Cup win of his career and that is a good group by themselves.
Peiffer, a Rising Star
The still young 24-year-old Peiffer has improved each of the past two seasons and grabbed two wins, in Khanty Mansiysk and Presque Isle, plus a second in the Oberhof sprint. He has shown that on a given day that he can handle almost anyone on the World Cup circuit. Müßiggang confirmed his confidence in Peiffer. “Arnd confirmed over the summer that he is an important personality in the team and he for sure has the potential to be on the very top.”
Greis Recovered; to Start in Östersund
Greis did not win last season, but made it to the podium three times, but had a serious leg fracture in late summer. Several weeks ago, he confirmed that he was fully recovered and has trained with the team since late September. Still it could be another month before the 2006 Olympic Champion is back to full speed. However, like Henkel, the gritty Greis will give it his all starting next week in Östersund.
Near Previous Levels
Birnbacher was strong all last season and could take up the slack if Greis is not at full speed early in the season. However, it is the group of Graf, Rösch, and Schempp who could make the season for the German men. Should Graf or Rösch get anywhere near their levels of 3-4 years ago, then it would be very possible for this group to be as good as any on the circuit. Adding Schempp who had a super rookie season two years ago makes the German men as deep as the women’s team.
Yet, for Germany, the whole season boils down to Ruhpolding. The German team has a history of outstanding performances on home soil. This year, they expect nothing less than their history has shown. Müßiggang knows the athletes are under pressure. “I think the pressure at a home World Championships is even higher than at the Olympics. The Olympics are somewhat further away, the personal surroundings are not really there and the athletes are better shielded from the pressure of the media, which also adds to it. That’s definitely going to be a factor at a home World Champs.”
As for the team that will step onto the field of play next March; that decision will be made over time as there are few givens for the team. “We will see over the coming months how the athletes develop and then take the strongest ones to the World Championships, no matter if they are young or old. It can be that it’s more the experienced athletes but it could also be the younger ones.”
At the Top
No doubt with the current make-up, it will be a mixed group, but one thing is for sure, the goal will remain the same, as Müßiggang inferred earlier, the German team wants to be at the top, nowhere else.