Darya Domracheva of Belarus announced about a month ago that she had mononucleosis, a viral disease that leaves sufferers with severe fatigue. After struggling to cope and recover, things are not going well and Domracheva has decided to skip the entire 2015-2016 biathlon season.
“You can, of course, push it and and still act this winter, but after consulting with experts and listening to them, I came to the conclusion that a more sensible solution would be skipping the season,” she wrote in a post on sport.tut.by. “I’m sure it would do me good, will restore strength and get me motivated for the next year.”
Domracheva won the World Cup Total Score last season; previously she had placed second in the 2012 and 2013 seasons and third in the 2014 season, where she also won three individual gold medals at the Olympic Games.
She wrote that by the end of the 2015 season, she was exhausted, and considered stepping back to either take a year off or compete less frequently on the World Cup. But after a rest she regained her enthusiasm for training and the next season. Her body “wasn’t fooled,” though, and mono was a signal that she should rest.
“Next month, on doctor’s advice, I will start in a very calm and gentle way,” she wrote. “Next I will gradually begin a basic training course, based on well-being and performance analysis. In the winter I plan to do detailed testing and selection of my skis for next season, and this year I’m getting a great opportunity to do so... To diversify and make the work more interesting, I plan to have a custom training plan for me to exercise, and to work out with experts from other sports. In general, I am considering the year for as a kind of reboot for myself.”
A number of biathletes have come down with mono in the last several seasons, with varying effects. Martin Fourcade, the Total Score winner on the men’s side, had a bout of mono last season, but it didn’t seem to harm his season; the biggest thing he had to give up was a desire to race in the FIS Cross-Country World Cup which began before the biathlon season.
A few seasons before, Canada’s Jean Philippe Le Guellec struggled with mono too, and said that it did significantly affect his performance.
Domracheva is undeniably the biggest star in women’s biathlon at the moment, and her loss will be felt greatly. Organizers of the 2016 World Championships in Oslo, Norway, are already lamenting her absence.
“It is clear this will make interest [in the competitions] smaller, particularly in Belarus,” NRK commentator Ola Lunde said. “It’s incredibly sorry for the sport. Meanwhile, the Norwegians are rid of an important and tough competitor, so there are greater chances for medals at the World Championships in Oslo.”
Biathlon will face an environment similar to cross-country skiing next season, where last year’s dominating star Marit Bjørgen is taking the season off to have her first child.
In biathlon’s case, the most likely heir to Domracheva’s throne is Kaisa Makarainen of Finland; she finished second to Domracheva in the Total Score in 2015, and the pair were head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Makarainen also won the Total Score in 2011 and 2014.
But there are plenty of other women nipping at her heels, who won at least one World Cup race last season. That includes Valj Semerenko of Ukraine; Veronika Vitkova and Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic; Tiril Eckhoff and Fanne Welle-Strand Horn of Norway; Marie Dorin Habert of France; Laura Dahlmeier of Germany; and Ekaterina Yurlova of Russia.
In other words, despite race organizers’ fears, there’s unlikely to be a lack of excitement on the World Cup.