DPA Hochfilzen, Austria
Martin Fourcade is the man to beat once again in the biathlon world championships which begin in Hochfilzen today and run to February 19.
After winning four gold medals in Oslo a year ago, the Frenchman will be short odds for gold in several events at the Austrian venue, which is hosting the championships for a third time following 1978 and 2005.
This year’s event is taking place under the shadow of doping, with biathlon one of the sports highlighted in the McLaren independent report on doping in Russia for the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA).
Double Olympic champion Fourcade himself has led calls for tougher action against Russian doping. Biathletes say sanctions should include bans of eight years, fines raised from the current maximum of 100,000 dollars to 1 million dollars and for nations to lose a starting place at World Cups, world championships and Olympics for every doping case.
The governing body IBU is holding an extraordinary congress in Fieberbrunn, Austria today when delegates are set to approve tighter anti-doping rules to take effect immediately.
Last month Russian biathletes avoided a blanket ban from competition, at least for the time being, following an extraordinary meeting of the IBU executive board.
The IBU cleared 22 Russian athletes after investigating claims made in the second McLaren report but asked Russian officials to explain what role seven others played in alleged state-sponsored doping.
In Oslo, Fourcade was only prevented from the “golden slam” of four individual golds by the Norwegian Johannes Thingnes Boe, who won the mass start race. The Frenchman did, however, collect a fourth gold in the mixed relay.
Fourcade’s form has continued this season with 13 wins in 15 World Cup races, and he will be looking at least to repeat his victories in Oslo in sprint, pursuit and 20-kilometre individual races.
Norwegians Boe, Emil Hegle Svendsen and veteran Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the most decorated world championship athlete and winter Olympian, as well as the Russian Anton Shipulin, look to be his strongest rivals.
Women’s World Cup leader and two-time champion Laura Dahlmeier of Germany is a strong medal hope in the women’s field, where Gabriela Koukalova of the Czech Republic, Finland’s Kaisa Maikarainen and Marie Dorin-Habert of France are also among strong medals favourites.
Pursuit world champion Dahlmeier has four World Cup victories this season and won five medals in Oslo.
But she insists she is “not particularly the big favourite” and says: “My big dream would be to come home with a medal.”
Hosts Austria may struggle to be a medals contender, but the German team heads to Hochfilzen with confidence high after 10 World Cup wins and 23 podium places, with both the women’s team and the men’s – who were empty-handed in Oslo – hoping for glory.
Germany won one gold, three silver and three bronze in Oslo last year, and women’s coach Gerald Hoenig said the team would be looking at least to match its World Cup performances.
“We hope to be fighting for a podium place in every race, and want to return with two or three medals,” he said.
The governing body IBU is
holding an extraordinary congress in Fieberbrunn, Austria today when delegates are set to approve tighter anti-doping rules to take effect immediately
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