Biathlon World Championships, Nove Mesto

Women's sprint on the live ticker

Final classification: 1. Simon (FRA), 2. Braisaz-Bouchet (FRA), 3. Jeanmonnot (FRA)…6. Preuß, 16. Voigt, 26. Schneider, 31. Hettich-Walz

A thin layer of white snow provided a wintry atmosphere on Thursday, at least for a short time, but hosting the Biathlon World Championships in Nove Mesto is a feat of strength. Temperatures sometimes exceeding zero degrees, constant rain and storms made preparations difficult and raised the question again on the first day of the competition: How long will professional winter sports be possible in Central Europe, far from the alpine regions? If there is no one trustworthy anymore? Is it cold and snowy even in early February?

“Of course I am worried about the future of our sport,” said Julia Simon. The Frenchwoman had just received the gold medal from her for winning the mixed relay. To do this, on Wednesday she struggled along the cross-country ski trail in the Czech forests under deep artificial snow and incessant rain. “It's not easy to see this and it's happening more and more frequently and faster,” the 27-year-old said of the changes caused by advancing climate change.

Lately the World Cups have been in danger several times and courses have also been prepared with great effort in Germany and France. Already in 2016 there was a complete cancellation at Oberhof due to the weather. That won't happen in Nove Mesto, but at least it seems possible to postpone them if the weather gets even worse. On Thursday, heavy machinery dumped large areas of fresh snow onto the field and stadium, after much of it had already melted or been blown away by the wind. It rained again for hours without a break before the women's sprint on Friday (5:20 p.m./ARD and Eurosport).

No more snow on a truck

“We have to think about the future, about how to continue doing biathlon,” said Simon, overall winner of the World Cup: “We are lucky that the IBU is looking for solutions.” Sustainability and climate change issues play an important role in this regard. same global association, including the ecological footprint of the organizer is taken into account. The next few years will be challenging because the climate crisis will likely mean less snow and increasingly shorter cold spells in many places. In France, snow was transported by truck at the end of 2022 to save the event. These scenarios should be avoided at all costs in the future.

So what to do? A biathlon calendar for the future is being discussed in the world association. The program is closed until the 2025/2026 season; the first adjustments will probably not be made until 2030. Even then, we are told, a revolution cannot be expected. Because it is difficult to take into account the interests of all organizers. This is, among other things, hotel capacity, but also many amenities. It remains to be seen whether the length of the season will be changed, new regions will have to be opened or the hosts will lose their World Cup status.

Debate on a new date for the Oberhof World Cup

In Germany there are also considerations. The German Ski Federation (DSV) is discussing the future calendar and would like to set a date for the races in Oberhof at the end of January and not immediately after New Year's Eve. “It is important that we finally find a solution that ensures that the best possible conditions are available at each location,” said Stefan Schwarzbach, Communications Director at DSV. There is no doubt that Germany wants to keep the two World Cups in Thuringia and Ruhpolding in Bavaria from the winter of 2026/2027.

“The areas where there is guaranteed snow are becoming fewer and fewer,” climate researcher Werner Aeschbach from the Heidelberg Institute for Environmental Physics told the German Press Agency last year: “But at 2,000 meters above sea level there will still be a lot of snow. However, in the medium term this security will no longer exist below 1,000 meters.”

Will roller skis replace real skis?

This can also be seen in Nove Mesto, which is located almost 600 meters above sea level. Only thanks to a large deposit of snow, common in many places, will the World Cup be held despite the clearly higher temperatures. 20,000 cubic meters of artificial snow have been applied to the tracks and another 50,000 cubic meters are available for the remaining eleven races until February 18. It's not expected to get much colder than five degrees this weekend and more rain is forecast. “The highest possible praise goes to the organizers for organizing competitions at World Cup level under these conditions,” IBU media director Christian Winkler told dpa.

At the next World Cup in 2025 in Lenzerheide/Switzerland and at the Winter Olympics a year later in Antholz/Italy, there will be more than 1,200 meters of altitude in the high mountains, which promises guaranteed snow. After the first World Championship in Estonia in 2027, it is still unclear who will host the next title fights.

Due to the lack of snow, training with roller skis has long been a reality. In the warm months, summer biathlon world championships are already held on the substitute for compact skiing. It still seems very far away that this will replace waxed boards in winter. At least ski chasers would have a future without snow, something that will undoubtedly take some getting used to and that does not exist, for example, in alpine ski racing or other disciplines.