Italian Women Make History in Exquisite World Championships Relay

Clare EganFebruary 20, 2023


Fans line the famous Birxsteig climb during the Women’s Relay at the IBU World Championships in Oberhof, Germany. (Photo: NordicFocus)

If there’s one competition to watch from the 2023 Biathlon World Championships, it’s the Women’s 4 x 6 k Relay. (Replay available here.) In a dazzling display of biathlon mastery, the Italian quartet knocked down 40 targets with 42 bullets, excelling one after another under pressure in difficult conditions to capture Italy’s first-ever Women’s Relay title. The “Blues” have been investing heavily in biathlon development with their sites set on the 2026 home Olympic Games, and it shows. But they didn’t run away with the win; it came down to a nail-biter final shooting, pitting Lisa Vittozzi of Italy against hometown favorite, Denise Herrmann of Germany. Vittozzi’s fast and flawless shooting clinched the win in spectacular fashion, while Herrmann faltered but held onto silver for Germany over third-place Sweden.

Lisa Vittozzi (ITA) and Denise Herrmann-Wick (GER), (l-r) shooting head to head for the gold medal in the final shooting stage of the IBU World Championships Women’s Relay. (Photo: NordicFocus)

After gusty winds caused drama at the shooting range in Saturday morning’s Men’s Relay, the conditions for the Women’s Relay eased a bit, though the compromise for lighter wind was heavier rain. On the first leg, two women shot clean: Vanessa Voigt of Germany’s 2022 Olympic bronze medal-winning relay squad, and Samuela Comola of Italy. Coming into these Championships, Comola’s best World Cup finish was 20th, but as one of three women to hit 20/20 in last Wednesday’s 15 k Individual she claimed a new personal best of fourth. Continuing her breakout week and clean shooting streak, she arrived at the first exchange in the lead pack with Sweden, Czech Republic, and Norway. Thirteen teams tagged within one minute, with the top seven all within 30 seconds.

Vanessa Voigt (GER), Samuela Comola (ITA), and Lou Jeanmannot (FRA) in the first leg of the Women’s Relay at IBU World Championships in Oberhof. (Photo: NordicFocus)

In the second leg, two-time World Cup Overall winner Dorothea Wierer of Italy kept a low profile at first,  hanging onto the back of a four-person lead pack. But in the standing shooting stage she used just one spare on Lane 4 and passed everyone to blow open a 26-second lead. France went into the penalty loop and never quite recovered, eventually finishing fourth. Norway suffered three penalty loops and fell even farther back, taking sixth in the end. Sweden had two penalty loops but made gains in the second half of the race to stay in the mix. From this point on, Italy never gave up the lead.

Dorothea Wierer (ITA) used just one spare in standing to take the lead at the halfway point in the Women’s Relay at IBU World Championships in Oberhof, Germany. (Photo: NordicFocus).

At the halfway point, 32-year-old Wierer (ITA) handed off to her 21-year-old teammate, Hannah Auchentaller, who was originally named to the Italian World Championships team as an alternate and has only competed in a handful of World Cup races, including just one relay. No one knew what to expect from the young athlete in this high-stakes situation. Chloe Chevalier of France caught Auchentaller from 20 seconds back in the approach to the prone shooting, but Auchentaller confidently skied her own pace and kept her calm on the range. She cleaned her targets with no spares, skiing away with a 30-second advantage while Chevalier used all three spares. Arriving on Lane 1 for standing, all eyes and cameras were on Auchentaller. In the moment when it counted most, she performed brilliantly, using only one spare to hit her targets like a seasoned professional. After leading the whole third leg, Auchentaller handed off five seconds ahead of Germany.

Hannah Auchentaller (ITA) setting up in the standing position in the Women’s Relay at the IBU World Championships. (Photo: NordicFocus).

The last leg was set up perfectly for a high-octane head-to-head battle between two superstars: Lisa Vittozzi of Italy and Denise Herrmann of Germany. Both women are ranked in the top five of the World Cup Overall: third-ranked Vittozzi has a slightly higher shooting percentage, while fifth-ranked Herrmann tends to be slightly faster on the tracks. Both athletes cleaned prone, but Vittozzi did so five seconds faster than Herrmann. Statistics played out as Herrmann caught Vittozzi on the tracks and led into the final shooting. In yet another display of incredible composure and expertise from the Italian team, Vittozzi blazed through her five targets with five hits in 20 seconds. Herrmann hesitated after the third hit and then missed the final two shots, eventually needing 53 seconds to clear her targets with two spares. Though she avoided the penalty loop she left the range 31 seconds behind Vittozzi.

Denise Herrmann-Wick (GER) chasing down Lisa Vittozzi (ITA) before the final shooting in the Women’s Relay at the IBU World Championships in Oberhof, Germany. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Vittozzi crossed the finish line in triumph and was met by her three ecstatic teammates—the new World Champions. Herrmann, her teammates, and the German crowd all seemed satisfied with their silver medal performance, and Hanna Oeberg (SWE) brought home the bronze for Sweden, perhaps a slight disappointment for the race favorites, but a World Championship medal nonetheless. Julia Simon of France crossed in fourth, looking underwhelmed.

Lisa Vittozzi (ITA) celebrates as she crosses the finish line to claim Italy’s first ever gold in a Women’s Relay at the IBU World Championships in Oberhof, Germany. (Photo: NordicFocus)

From North America, Canada finished 11th and the US was 15th. Canada’s Nadia Moser had a solid first leg to tag in ninth just 46 seconds out of the lead. For the US, Deedra Irwin struggled on both the range and the tracks, using all six spares and incurring one penalty loop to hand off in 15th, 2:10 back. Joanne Reid (USA) moved the team up to 12th while Canada fell to 15th at the halfway point. On the third leg, Chloe Levins (USA) held onto twelfth and tagged twenty seconds ahead of Canada in 13th. Skiing the anchor leg for team USA, Kelsey Dickinson dropped down to 15th, while Canada’s Emma Lunder finished strong, bringing the Canadians up to 11th.

Joanne Reid (USA) brought the US from 15th two 12th in the second leg of the Women’s Relay at the IBU World Championships. (Photo: NordicFocus).

The Canadians had a final shooting score of 1 (penalty loop) +10 (spare rounds), while the US had 1+15. The winners from Italy had 0+2, highlighting the importance of the shooting and the exceptional caliber of their performance. Though it wasn’t a day to write home about for either North American team, US Biathlon Team Head Coach and proud father, Armin Auchentaller of Italy, certainly had reason to celebrate. His daughter and her three teammates were simply superb.

Dorothea Wierer (ITA), Hannah Auchentaller (ITA), Lisa Vittozzi (ITA), Samuela Comola (ITA), (l-r) celebrating Italy’s first ever gold medal in the Women’s Relay at the IBU World Championships in Oberhof,Germany. (Photo: NordicFocus).

IBU World Championships Women’s Relay RESULTS

Clare Egan

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