All posts by biathlon23

Kadri Lehtla: The Interview!

Photo courtesy of Kadri Lehtla.

Kadri Lehtla is an Estonian biathlete from Tallinn. She was born on the 3rd of May 1985 and started biathlon in 2006. She made her World Cup debut in 2007 and achieved her career best result in the Oestersund individual in 2013 when she finished 14th. She has represented Estonia at two Olympic Games in Vancouver and Sochi as well as at nine World Championships.

Follow Kadri on Instagram: kadrilehtla

Why did you become a biathlete?

I used to be a cross country skier until the age of 21. I was in a bit of a difficult situation. A friend of mine insisted that I try biathlon because there are much more opportunities. Best decision ever!

How do you assess last season? What was good and what was bad?

Since I haven’t had any good results in a long time (there are reasons why) and my last season didn’t seem different, I noticed the difference. I enjoyed racing again and gained back my confidence. Also my shooting was pretty nice.

What have you been doing for summer training? Has the corona virus affected the plans or the way you train?

Actually my summer has gone very well. Quite possibly my best summer ever. So far the virus situation hasn’t affected my plans much. Not sure about the next months. I hope I will have the possibility to train in the Alps as well.

What are your goals for this season?

My goal is to come back strong and healthy again. I wish to reach at least those results I made a long time ago.

How has biathlon in Estonia changed since you started competing?

Biathlon is much more popular now. When I started, nobody really knew what was going on there. Cross country was number 1 and nobody cared about the rifles. Now it’s the opposite. The World Cup races are on national TV and the interest is very high. Love to see that. Sadly our winters are getting worse and worse and kids don’t want to ski on mud, so the future is fragile.

You have had a long career in biathlon. How long do you think you will continue and do you have any plans for afterwards like coaching for example?

I think it has been a long career. But to me it doesn’t seem so. Time flies so fast, it’s terrifying. I would love to do one more Olympics. To be honest I have never planned my career ending. I never set the exact date. It comes when it’s time.
I have some plans for afterwards. Coaching might be one of them. Also I’m into photography. And I would like to try Ironman!

You are having a dinner party with 3 other biathletes. Who would you invite and why?

I would invite Kaisa Mäkeräinen, because she is one of my favourites since the beginning. Susan Dunklee, it’s always nice to talk to her. And last, if it would be possible, Halvard Hanevold. His humour would make the dinner party fabulous. May he rest in peace. There’s going to be a “design your own pizza party” with some good wine. 😉

What song would you add to the stadium playlist and what song would you remove?

I don’t think I would remove anything. But I would add Rudimental ft. John Newman – ‘Not giving in’ and Kanye West – ‘Stronger’.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

It’s glorious Antholz-Anterselva. Fell in love with that place the very first time I got there back in 2008.

Who is your favourite biathlete (past or present) and why?

Kaisa Mäkeräinen as I mentioned before. Always root for your neighbours. I have a strong connection with Finland.


Does your rifle have a name?

Unfortunately no. But Mustang would be cool name. Maybe I will start calling him that.

Describe yourself in three words.

Strong headed, Calm, Positive

Quick fire choices:
Choose one:

skiing or shooting? Both. You can’t do biathlon with just one.
prone or standing? Standing.
against the clock or head to head racing? Head to head.
uphill or downhill? Yay! Downhill it is!
mixed relay or women’s relay? Mixed.
morning or night? Morning.
sun or snow? Both. Sun is where you get the energy. On snow you use the energy.
roller skiing or cycling? Roller skiing. Actually I like mountainbiking too but not road.
alcohol or chocolate? Umm, I’m not much into chocolate. So I’d say a bottle of cold beer after tough week is good.

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Karolina Dusilova: The Interview!

Karolina (Kaja) Dusilova is a Czech biathlete who was born in Jablonec nad Nisou on the 1st of August 2000. She started biathlon in 2013 has competed on the IBU Cup as well as the IBU Junior Cup. She has represented the Czech Republic at the Youth and Junior World Championships and last season achieved her best result so far finishing 6th in the sprint at the Junior Open European Championships in Hochfilzen.

Follow Karolina on Twitter: @kajadus
and instagram: kaja_dusilova

Why did you become a biathlete?

I saw biathlon on TV when I was 12-years-old when I was sick, I had a fever(39-40degrees), but when biathlon was on TV it was like I was healthy. It was love at first sight. And I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

How do you assess last season? What was good and what was bad?

Last season was very weird for me. For 2 years I had many problems with my health and I returned after one year’s long pause, when I couldn’t do anything. Last spring was a new strart. Training was good, but in August I had an injury during one training. I got a plaster cast on my leg and I couldn’t train. In September I had the graduation from the Gymnasium (high school) so this two months were very hard for my psyche. So the start of the winter season was very bad, and after the second IBU J.C. I thought I was done. But after Christmas I felt better and I qualified for the JWCH in Lenzerheide. And good results came in Italy (Martell) on the IBU cup, where I was 21st and I got my first points. The next competion was in Arber, where I got my first points in the IBU J.C. And the best result came in Hochfilzen, where I was 6th place in the sprint. But after came the bad news with COVID-19 and we had to go home.

What was your best or favourite race from last season and why?

Certainly in Martell on the IBU CUP. I was there for the first time this season and I really like this place. There are good tracks, hard hills and hard downhills and a good shooting range and beautiful mountains. And there was my break in results when I got my first points.

What are your plans for summer training? Has the corona virus affected the plans or the way you train?

I have 3 weeks per month together with the team. So when we spend time together, we have to be careful. We use disinfectant and don’t go to public places. And we train only in the Czech Republic, we don’t go abroad yet.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My biggest problem is my head. I speculate during the training about technique on skis, about me and my problems in normal life, why is this squirrel watching me etc. And I don’t concentrate and I have bad shooting or somwhere fall on skis or bike or I stumble into a tree. It’s very hard to train me, I think. Because I’m not communicative but my feelings show on my face (so seeing me, often isn’t nice!) 😃, and when some problem comes (with health or some misunderstanding) it’s worse. I don’t speak for example for 3 days. And often I want to train more and it’s difficult to stop me.

But on the other side I’m very competitive, purposeful, courageous, and know what I want to do. When I have support from trainers and people around me, I can do big things. So if I stay healthy and stop thinking about everything it will be good and top results will come.

What are your goals for this season?

I want more stability in results during the season, top 10 on JWCH and to be a member of the relay on JWCH and JEWCH.

Who is your roommate on tour and do they have any bad habits (eg.snoring) or good habits (eg.tidy)?

I’m very adaptable but I’m often with Terka Vinklárková and Klárka Polednová or I’m alone. But I haven’t got problem to be with anybody in the room. And I don’t know 😄 if i have some good habits. Maybe I’m quiet but often I speak in my sleep.

You are having a dinner party with 3 other biathletes. Who would you invite and why? What’s on the menu?

I would invite Terka Vinklárková, because she is my soulmate, she plays beautifully on guitar and she is my sun, with her I have a better day 😊. The second is Klarka Polednová, she is my best friend with Terka and she is a very good dancer, she has a good choice of songs and with her there will be a party, a really big party 😃. And the last one will be Péťa Suchá, because she is a good singer, she plays guitar too and she is really a party girl. We will have meat, vegetable, etc. The best could be some grill party 😄!

What are your hobbies away from biathlon?

Certainly snowboarding during the winter but because we spend so much time on races I haven’t got time for it. But when I can, I am somewhere on a downhill. During the summer I like to go to by bike. I love adrenaline sports, I haven’t got any fear so it’s ideal for me. And I really like to learn, I like finding new information and learning it.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

Yes, three tracks are my top. In Martell, Lenzerheide and Obertilliach. Maybe because there are the best views of mountains 😄.

Who is your favourite biathlete (past or present) and why?

I don’t know. Every athlete is unique. And I can never have the same results like Gabina Koukalova or someone like her. I find the best things what they do and things which are good for me and I try them. When it functions, I continue with it. When it isn’t for me I find something new.

Does your rifle have a name?

No, I tried it. But we aren’t friends. So when I shoot bad, I put it in the corner of the room and we don’t speak together.

Describe yourself in three words.

Stubborn, quiet, tough 😄.

Quick fire choices:
Choose one:

skiing or shooting? Both of them, that’s why I do biathlon 😄.
prone or standing? Certainly standing!
uphill or downhill? Downhill, of course 😎.
mixed relay or women’s relay? Women’s relay. With my team girls.
morning or night? Beautiful sunny morning.
sun or snow? Sunny winter day. It’s the best skiing in shorts, sunglasses and t-shirt.
roller skiing or cycling? It’s difficult. Maybe it’s the same.😊
alcohol or chocolate? Neither. 😁 A big steak please!

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Anna Gandler: The Interview!

Photo courtesy of Anna Gandler.


Anna Gandler is an Austrian biathlete. She was born in Hall in the Tyrol region on the 5th of January 2001. Last season she won the individual race at the IBU Junior Open European Championships in Hochfilzen. At the Youth World Championships in Lenzerheide she took the gold medal in the pursuit, after finishing 4th in the sprint, and also claimed the bronze medal in the individual. She finished in 15th place overall in the total score on the IBU Junior Cup.

Follow Anna on Instagram: anna_gandler
Like her Facebook page: Anna Gandler

Why did you become a biathlete?

First, I started with cross-country skiing, because my dad (Markus Gandler) was a very successful cross-country skier and he showed me the sport. The training was always a lot of fun. We always trained in Seefeld and there is a shooting range too. I think like every child, I was fascinated by the rifle, which was something special. A teammate of my dad, who has a cross-country school in Seefeld, gave me the opportunity to try shooting, although I was very young. Since then, I am a biathlete.

How do you assess last season overall? What was good and what was bad?

I have to say that overall, I am very satisfied with this season. The good things were the gold and bronze medals in the Youth World Championships and the gold medal in the Junior European Championships. The bad thing was the start of the season. I had problems with my muscles and could not find my performance.

What was your best or favourite race from last season and why?

My favourite race of last season was the pursuit of the World Championships in Lenzerheide. It was always a big dream, after the silver medal 2017 in Osrblie, to win a gold medal once. In addition, my family was there and it was such a great atmosphere.

What are your plans for summer training? Has the corona virus affected the plans or the way you train?

Corona only affected my training in the first weeks after the season. In Tirol, where I live, the rules were very strict. I trained a lot at home and I had luck because I have a dog, so I was allowed to go out sometimes too. Right now, everything is going according to plan.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my strength is the shooting, because I can be really focused, especially in prone. My weaknesses are the pressure I put on myself before competitions and my nervousness.

What are your goals for this season?

The next season is my first junior year. So my goals for next season are:
– to win a medal (World Champion and European Championships) in the junior class. I think it is possible, if I stay healthy, because I also won the gold medal in the Junior European Championships in Hochfilzen this year.
– to start and make good results in the IBU Cup competitions again.

Who is your roommate on tour and do they have any bad habits (eg.snoring) or good habits (eg.tidy)?

Haha… my roommates change all the time, but usually I am with Lisa Osl, Kristina Oberthaler and Lea Rothschopf. No, they haven’t any bad habits… maybe I am the one who is snoring sometimes ;).

You are having a dinner party with 3 other biathletes. Who would you invite and why? What’s on the menu?

I think I would invite Dorothea Wierer, Johannes Boe and Dominik Landertinger, because I want to know more about their training and experiences and in addition, they make a nice and funny impression (Landi I also know a little bit). On the menu would be sushi or tacos. Maybe sushi as an appetizer and for main course tacos haha. I really like that :).

What are your hobbies away from biathlon?

I play violin and I really like to do something with my animals at home. I also like cooking and trying out new recipes.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

I really like the tracks which are in the woods like Pokljuka, Obertilliach or Oberhof, but honestly I don’t have a favourite one.

Who is your favourite biathlete (past or present) and why?

Oh I have many: When I was a kid I always said Magdalena Neuner and Christoph Sumann, because they achieved so much in their career. Now I am also a big fan of
– Dorothea Wierer, because she is so cool, her fast shooting is amazing and she is also interested in other things than sport, for example fashion.
– Laura Dahlmeier, it is amazing how many medals she won in such a short time and of course
– Dominik Landertinger. He has so often picked himself up and never gave up, also after his operation and always showed his performance when he needed it and his final lap was the best.

Does your rifle have a name?

No, but I just think about that.

Describe yourself in three words.

independent, tidy, ambitious

Quick fire choices:
Choose one:
skiing or shooting? I can’t decide, can I say both? 🙂
prone or standing? prone
against the clock or head to head racing? head to head racing
uphill or downhill? uphill (I am a bad downhiller)
mixed relay or women’s relay? both 🙂
morning or night? night
sun or snow? in winter snow and in summer sun 😉
roller skiing or cycling? roller skiing
alcohol or chocolate? definitely chocholate

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Hallie Grossman: The Interview!

Photo courtesy of Hallie Grossman.

Hallie Grossman is an American biathlete. She was born in Vermont on the 27th of April 1993. She has been doing biathlon since 2016 after initially competing as a skier for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project. Last season she made her debut on the World Cup in Oberhof and raced in Ruhpolding. She also got some good results on the IBU Cup at the end of the season in Minsk with two Top 30 finishes.

Follow Hallie on Instagram: halliegeee
Check out her website: https://halliegrossmanblog.wordpress.com/

Why did you become a biathlete?

After graduating college, I joined the Craftsbury Green Racing Project as a skier. During my first summer on the team, I injured my knee and couldn’t do very much training. During this time, some of the biathlon boys on the team taught me how to shoot and I enjoyed the challenge. It took about a year to really get into it, but I’m so glad that I did.

You got your first taste of the World Cup last season. What was that experience like?

It was an awesome experience! My first weekend on the World Cup was in Oberhof in the pouring rain but I arguably had the biggest smile on my face and was the happiest person at the venue all weekend. Our relay team was made up all of women from the same club in Craftsbury, which was fun and something our ski coach at home was really excited about. On the IBU Cup, my teammates and I started wearing glitter for most of the races, and happily sharing it with anyone and everyone. It was a great bonding experience and way to get to know our competitors (who quickly turn into friends!). I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear it in the “big leagues,” but was so happy I decided to and it reminded me that racing really is quite fun.

What was your best or favourite race from last season and why?

There are several, for different reasons. My favorite race was the opening sprint in Sjusjoen, where my teammate Kelsey Dickinson was 2nd. It was so awesome to see one of my closest friends do so well. One of my best races was in Minsk at the very end of the year. I had been struggling with my shooting for a few weeks, but things came together and I shot 1,0 in the sprint and was ecstatic.

What are your plans for summer training? Has the corona virus affected the plans or the way you train?

I have been home in Craftsbury since March and it’s been great! It definitely is a bummer to not be able to have camps or see our National team coaches except through a computer screen, but I feel fortunate that I have such great training partners and opportunities at home.

What are your goals for this season?

To do my part in this pandemic (wearing my mask!) to help the world get to a point where we can gather and race again!

You are away from home for long periods of time. Do you pack anything special in your suitcase when you travel to Europe?

My aeropress coffee maker, my knitting, and my mini sewing kit. You never know what the coffee situation will be in any given country or hotel. Knitting provides endless hours of activity, especially when you get as distracted as myself and pull it out many, many times. And the sewing kit comes in handy because it turns out clothing and equipment can rip when it’s worn nearly everyday for several months straight.

You are having a dinner party with 3 other biathletes. Who would you invite and why? What’s on the menu?

(I changed it to 4 🙂 ) Johanna Taliharm, because she’s been training in Craftsbury with us for the last few summers and has become an integral honorary member of our team. Kaisa Makarainen, she joined us for a camp last year in France and it was great to get to know her a bit. Her incredible ski speed has made me a fan of hers since I started doing biathlon. Mona Brorsson. In Oberhof, she reminded me to have fun and enjoy it right before the relay. It was such a kind gesture and it makes me want to get to know her better! Flurina Volken. Flurina and I met two years ago when we started near the very end of the race together, since then I’ve spend several weeks living with her and her family in Switzerland and she has become a great friend. The menu! Depends where we are dining. If we’re at my home, we’ll have salad, tacos, and one Emily Dreissigacker’s cake for dessert.

What are your hobbies away from biathlon?

I love to teach kids. When I’m home (prepandemic) I spend time in a local elementary school, working with kids on math or reading, or whatever they may need a little extra attention with. This summer, I’ve been tutoring a 9 year old girl and we’ve been reading books, doing math, and just playing outside and riding our bikes.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

Martell. This is where I did my first IBU Cup in 2017 and this past year where I had my fastest ski times. I like it because there are some tough uphills and the downhills appeared tricky but I was able to practice them enough that they seemed ok!

Does your rifle have a name?

My rifle doesn’t but my stock does. Her name is Maisey. My first stock was Posey.

Describe yourself in three words.

Smiley, caring, energetic.

Quick fire choices:

prone or standing? prone
against the clock or head to head racing? head to head
uphill or downhill? uphill
mixed relay or women’s relay? This one is tricky! I’ve done one women’s relay on the WC and several mixed relays on the IBU cup and both are special in their own ways!
morning or night? morning
sun or snow? sun
roller skiing or cycling? cycling
alcohol or chocolate? chocolate

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Dzmitry Lazouski: The Interview!

Dzmitry Lazouski is a biathlete from Belarus. He was born on the 9th of September 1998 in Minsk. His best finish to date on the World Cup came in the sprint in Nove Mesto in 2018/19 when he was 47th. Last season he won the bronze medal in the sprint at the Junior World Championships in Lenzerheide and was 4th in the pursuit. At the Summer World Championships held at his home track in Raubichi in 2019 he won both the junior sprint and pursuit titles.

Follow Dzmitry on Instagram: laza41

Why did you become a biathlete?

I became a biathlete by accident, I went with friends for the company and I liked it.

How do you assess last season? What was good and what was bad?

I can rate the last season as 7 out of 10. It turned out that I came up to the main start in good shape, and only sometimes my skis were bad.

What are your plans for summer training? Has the corona virus affected the plans or the way you train?

The virus did not affect the training plan, but prevented us from going to the mountains.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

It is difficult to say which side is my weak and which is my strong side. There are still many aspects to work on.

Who is your roommate on tour and do they have any bad habits (eg. snoring) or good habits (eg. tidy)?

We live permanently with Anton Smolski. He has no bad sides 😅.

You are having a dinner party with 3 other biathletes. Who would you invite and why? What’s on the menu?

I would call the guys with whom I communicate well. On the menu would be: Draniki (potato pancakes), Margarita pizza and fish steaks.

Who is your favourite biathlete (past or present) and why?

Emil Svendsen was my childhood idol. He looks very funny in life and is very collected at the races.

Does your rifle have a name?

No, my rifle does not have a specific name.

Describe yourself in three words.

Kind, sympathetic and probably crazy about sports.

Quick fire choices:

skiing or shooting? Skiing.
prone or standing? Prone
uphill or downhill? Uphill.
morning or night? Morning.
roller skiing or cycling? Bicycle
alcohol or chocolate? Better chocolate 😅.

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Suvi Minkkinen: The Interview!

Suvi Minkkinen is a Finnish biathlete born on the 8th of December 1994 in Joutsa. She made her debut on the World Cup in 2017 but last season was her most successful so far. Her best result came in the Ruhpolding when she broke into in the Top 30 for the first time after finishing 29th in the pursuit following a 31st place finish in the sprint.

Follow her on Instagram: suviminkkinen

Check out her website: https://www.suviminkkinen.fi/

Why did you become a biathlete?

My younger brother started biathlon first and I followed him. I was watching some of his summer competitions and after that I asked my Dad if I could also come to the training. Before that I was a cross country skier but quickly I realised that biathlon is much more interesting.

How do you assess last season? What was good and what was bad?

My last season was a bit weird. The first half was really bad especially in the shooting range. It was mentally hard to process because I always think that shooting is my strength in biathlon. In the second half I did many career best results which I also expected from myself from the beginning of the season. After all I’m happy with last season because I had so many good races since the week in Ruhpolding. I think my skiing improved a lot and I also got my normal shooting level back during the season.

What are your plans for summer training? Has the corona virus affected the plans or the way you train?

We have quite a good situation in Finland and I have been able to train almost normally. Due to corona we haven’t been able to travel for high altitude camps but other than that it has been nice to stay home more than normally. But other than that summer training has gone well and as planned.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I think my strengths are fast and good shooting. I also like to sprint fast on the skis but I still have a lot to improve in longer distance skiing.

What are your goals for this season?

My goal is to be better than last year. I think if I would get most results between 20-30 places it would be a good step for me. And the perfect race could be top 15 or even top 10 I would be very happy.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

I think I must say Ruhpolding is my favourite track. I have done good races there and I like the track profile. I also like many other tracks but this is probably the favourite.

Does your rifle have a name?

My rifle doesn’t have a name but I think it is a she 💁🏼‍♀️

Quick fire choices:
prone or standing? At the moment I would say standing but it depends, sometimes one position goes well and the other doesn’t and it’s frustrating.
against the clock or head to head racing? Head to head
uphill or downhill? Downhill. I hope someday I’m in such good shape that I could say uphill.
mixed relay or women’s relay? Both. I haven’t done so many mixed relays yet probably none🤔 but I like relays, also the single mixed relay is one of the favourites.
morning or night? Night. I’m not a morning person really 😂
sun or snow? Sun and snow?😎☀️❄ best combination
roller skiing or cycling? Roller skiing
alcohol or chocolate? Chocolate

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Vinny Fountain: The Interview!

Vinny Fountain is a British biathlete and also a serving member of the British Army in the Royal Artillery (16 Regt RA). He was born on the 12th of October 1991 and his hometown is Nottingham. Vinny first raced on the IBU Cup in the 2015/16 season and last season he competed for GB at the World Championships in Antholz as well as the Open European Championships in Minsk.

Follow Vinny on Instagram: vinnyfountain12

Why did you become a biathlete?

I became a biathlete because I really enjoyed alpining when I was at school so I wanted a new challenge therefore took on biathlon. And what a challenge it is.

How much of your time is split between being a biathlete and being a soldier? What duties do you still have in the army?

I would say my time split between being a biathlete and being a soldier is 80/20. I’m only ever in work after the winter season or to carry out a career course. Apart from that I’m training. The duties I currently have is to help the regimental team throughout the winter nordic and biathlon season where possible.

What was your best or favourite race from last season and why?

My favourite race from last season would be the single mixed relay in Minsk. Even though the conditions weren’t great, it was so fun and exciting and we (TeamGB) didn’t do too bad either.

What are your plans for summer training? How have they been affected by corona virus?

Summer training is the same as last year apart from a few months of delay. I’m currently training in Ruhpolding and will remain here until the winter season. During covid, unfortunately I had to train back at camp where it is flat and only at sea level but this was my only option. I just have some catching up to do ha.

What are your goals for this season?

My goals for this season are to improve my shooting accuracy to at least 75% or even 80% and gain a World Cup start place.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths – maintain discipline, motivated and I feel like my skiing is getting better.
Weaknesses – I can still improve on my running, shooting needs a little more work and I should be doing more stretching than I am to recover.

You are having a dinner party with 3 other biathletes. Who would you invite and why? What’s on the menu?

I would invite Johannes Boe, not only is he a very funny guy, but last year at the World Champs in Antholz, he was kind enough to give me a can of coke so I would like to repay the favour with some good food.
Martin Fourcade – he’s a legend in himself and it would be comedy to watch Johannes and Martin debate who the better biathlete was 😂
Lisa Vittozzi – I’ve heard some good things about Lisa so I’d use this opportunity to get to know her and she is also nice to look at ha.

The menu – it has to be good or they won’t want to come back haha. I think I’ll spice things up with a Mexican night. Cheesey nachos with salsa dip/sour cream/guacamole for starters. The main is make your own fajitas with as many or as little fillings as you want and for dessert, warm chocolate fudge cake with some potential shots of tequila on the side.

What song would you add to the stadium playlist and what song would you remove?

I don’t think I’d remove a song from the stadium play list however if I could add one, it would either be Eminem – Collapse, or Welshly Arms – Legendary. Both very good songs. Gets you pumped for racing ha.

On your IBU profile one of your hobbies is tattoos! What have you got and where? What is your next tattoo going to be?

I have a full right arm sleeve, wings and a crown on my chest, writing on my ribs and a cool little palm tree just below my left calf. I’m thinking hard about my next one and I think its either going to be the face of a lion or a wolf. Not sure where yet. I would also like the Olympic rings but we’ll have to wait and see about that one.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

My favourite biathlon track would have to be Sjusjoen, Norway. It was my first ever official track I’d trained and raced on and I think for the amount of effort you put in, you get back. By this I mean, you work hard uphill and then you get a nice downhill rest after.

Who is your favourite biathlete (past or present) and why?

Don’t tell him I said this but it is the one and only Lee Steven Jackson. Former Team GB athlete and good friend. The reason for this is because when I first started biathlon he was the best we had and I wanted to get to the places and venues he had already been. He showed great determination and his work ethic was immense. Everything you’d expect from a role model.

Does your rifle have a name?

Rita

Describe yourself in three words.

Spontaneous, easy going and sociable.

Quick fire choices:

prone or standing? Prone
against the clock or head to head racing? Head to head
uphill or downhill? Definitely downhill
mixed relay or men’s relay? mixed relay
morning or night? morning
sun or snow? sun
roller skiing or cycling? roller skiing
alcohol or chocolate? erm….alcohol

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Rise of the Sprinter?

No it is not the next Terminator film but it could spell the end for some! You may have noticed that recently the IBU have been testing some new race formats. The only one to reach World Cup level so far is the single mixed relay but there are races currently on the IBU Cup that could be gracing our TV screens soon at the top level.

The super sprint is one of them and it involves a short 3km sprint race followed by a short 5km mass start for the top 30 finishers. Note the entire race distance is 8km which is shorter than the 10km men’s sprint and only half a kilometre longer than the 7.5km women’s sprint.

The single mixed relay is raced over a distance of 13.5km in total with each leg being just 1.5 km. The mixed relay is 27km long, the women’s relay 24km and the men’s relay 30km.

So what am I getting at here? – biathlon races are getting shorter!

Why are they getting shorter? Well a few reasons really I suppose. The first is that these shortened events tend to be more exciting and better for the TV schedules. They are also a reaction to the fact that nowadays the modern viewer has a shorter attention span and there is a culture of wanting instant gratification.

And of course the shorter the race the closer the finish is likely to be! Less distance to race means that the faster skiers can’t build up as much of a lead and so any mistakes on the range from the front runners are more likely to be punished. It makes for great drama and compelling viewing.

So what does this mean for the sport?

Well firstly it could spell the end for some of the current races and the most likely casualty is the individual. It’s the longest race on the World Cup. It is 20km for the men and 15km for the women. It is against the clock so there isn’t the excitement and action that the head to head races bring and if there is a big field of competitiors it can take quite a long time from start to finish. However it is also the oldest event in biathlon and probably the best test of a biathletes skill. Incidentally the IBU have also introduced a shorter verion of the individual with a 45 second penalty and a 12.5km distance for women and 15km for men.

Another way that this race shortening could change the sport is with the athletes themselves. Will they need to change how they train? The newer events look more like a series of intervals rather than pure stamina events. Will they have to adjust to become sprinters rather than long distance racers? Could we see the end of training such as the bike rides up the mountains of Europe and roller skiing great distances around the countryside? Will the slow-twitch muscles have to be replaced by the fast-twitch muscles for these short speedy events?

On the other hand another of the new races is the mass start 60 which is a big version of the current mass start with 60 racers instead of the usual 30. There is no change in distance but it is reflective of the fact that head to head races are more popular with the fans. Let’s face it they are more entertaining!

What will happen in the future?

Interestingly the super sprint was on the schedule for the World Cup in Holmenkollen this season but the IBU recently announced that it would not go ahead and the traditional sprint and pursuit would be held instead. After a recent evaluation meeting involving the Technical and Athletes Committees several rule changes have been proposed and so further tests will be carried out on the IBU Cup. Despite this delay it looks like it will be heading to the World Cup at some point in the future.

So could we see a big change to the biathlon events in the next few years? Will the individual disappear? Will the sprint be replaced by the super sprint? Could they change the super sprint to a sprint + pursuit (instead of a mass start) and lose the pursuit race itself? Could the relays all be cut so that we have the single mixed relay, a short men’s and a short women’s relay instead of the long ones?

Who knows? This is all speculation but it does seem to be the way the sport is heading. Is it the right thing to do? Will the fans like it? I don’t know but it’s will be interesting to see how biathlon changes in the coming years.

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Credit to ex-biathlete Brian Halligan (USA) for the inspiration for this article. 🙂

Wax on, Wax off?

There is big news in the world of wax – Mr Miyagi has been appointed head wax technician for the Japanese team! Of course he hasn’t! He was waxing cars and also more importantly he is a fictional character! No the real big news in the wax world is the banning of fluorinated wax from this season!

What is it and why I can hear you all thinking. Well let me take you back in time to explain all……

A wax miracle

Back in a time called “the eighties” when people wore shoulder pads and wondered ‘Who shot JR?’ (It wasn’t a biathlete by the way!) fluorinated wax was introduced in both in cross country and alpine skiing. It was a game changer in terms of increasing the speed of the skis. Fluorinated wax basically creates a barrier between the ski and the snow which repels both moisture and dirt therefore reducing the friction and increasing speed. It can take minutes off a skiers time especially in cross country skiing over longer distances.

The science bit

The wax is known by a few different names – fluorocarbon, fluorinated or just plain fluoro. From there it gets a bit complicated unless you are a scientist!

The chemical found in the wax is made from raw perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) compounds. Although not found in large quantities in the wax they are more commonly used to coat frying pans (Teflon), raincoats and even pizza boxes.

In the USA many of the compounds found in fluorinated wax products contain ingredients listed in the American Toxic Substances Control Act. The acid has been found to cause liver and kidney damage as well lung problems. In 2010 a study showed that ski technicians had on average 45 times more fluorocarbon in their blood as nonskiers. While it is unlikely to have a big impact on recreational skiers or indeed the athletes it could have a negative impact on the technicians. This however has long been known and it’s why you see the wax techs wearing masks so they don’t breathe in any harmful fumes.

There are two types of ski wax that contain PFOA. The C8 wax contains eight fully fluorinated carbon molecules and C6 which contains six. The C6 is said to be less toxic than the C8 although the C6 has not been as intensively studied as yet.


The legal bit

Fluorinated wax has already been banned in the USA in high school and college nordic skiing and also in the youth and amateur leagues in Europe for some time. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), a policymaking branch of the European Union, will begin enforcing its ban on the sale, manufacture, and import of all “nonessential” C8 products in Europe from July. Hence the reason it can no longer be used in biathlon.

The biathlon bit

There are two big problems that banning the wax is going to create. The first is for the wax teams. They have to find an alternative to fluorinated wax that does a similar job. It won’t be easy. The wax manufacturers are working furiously to come up with alternatives to replace it but no one knows yet how good they will be. I’m sure the wax techs are already busy experimenting with other solutions and could be testing things like candle, turtle and even ear to replace the miracle wax! 😉

The second problem is a big one. Unfortunately biathlon is not immune from cheating as we have already seen with doping. Now however we are facing another form of doping – ski doping! There will be a big temptation to use the fluorinated wax even after it is banned as it does offer a competitive advantage and can take minutes off an athletes ski time.

This means that skis are going to have to be tested for traces of the banned wax which brings up all kinds of questions. Firstly an accurate test has to be found which will show the presence of the wax and one that will do it quickly. Next it will have to be decided when to test the ski – before or after the race. Remember most athletes have multiple pairs of skis so it could be possible to send one pair to get tested and then swap them for a pair with the wax on before the race begins or even after.

Who do you test? Will it be like the drugs testing? Maybe the podium finishers and then a random selection from the rest of the field. Will they target people based on changes in their ski times? If they ski around the same speed as the previous year will that arouse suspicion?

There is also the issue of those athletes who are using skis from last season which may still have traces of the wax on them. Will there be a limit on acceptable traces in the first year it is banned and what is that limit? Not all teams can afford sets of new skis every season for all their athletes so it is going to be an issue.

If you do catch anyone using the banned wax what is the punishment going to be? Will it be like doping and see athletes face a ban? Or will they have time added to their race time to mitigate the advantage gained? Will they receive a warning and a second chance if they are caught once?

It’s a bit of a minefield but luckily that is the job of the wax teams and IBU to sort out and not me! Good luck to them!It will be a very interesting season in the wax trucks that is for sure!

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To biathlon, or not to biathlon…..

….that is the question!

Sport has never had to deal with a global pandemic before. It is an unprecedented time and difficult decisions have to be made. Last season the corona virus caused the World Cup round in Nove Mesto to be held with no fans. Kontiolahti was the same and was ended a day early and then Holmenkollen was cancelled altogether.

So what of this season? Will there be biathlon? Should there be biathlon? There is a real possibility that the season could be cancelled. Here are some of the difficulties our beloved sport will have to face in the very near future.

Winter
Biathlon is a winter sport and even though cases are falling in some places around the world and the peak in Europe is passed unfortunately viruses tend to spread more easily in the winter months. If there is a second wave of corona virus is most likely to be right around the time the biathlon season is due to begin.

Travel
With 9 rounds of the World Cup, a season opener and the World Championships on the schedule for the 2020/21 season it means travelling between 10 different countries (Germany has 2 races). One of the stops on the World Cup is in Beijing, China for the Olympic test event in February but the rest are all in Europe.

Biathletes do sometimes drive between venues that are closer together but they also fly to save time. This means going through airports that obviously have people from all over the world passing through them and so the virus can be spread more easily.

Different countries also have different rules for their borders and these could change at any moment if a cluster occurs in a certain place. This might lead to airports being shut down amid a localised lockdown or borders being closed with little warning.

Socially distant racing

It’s not really possible to socially distance in a biathlon race. Maybe in the sprint and individual it would be easier but not in the head to head races or obviously the relays. There is also the question of contact with wax technicians and physiotherapists as well as race officials and journalists. The shooting mats are also shared by all the biathletes on the range and could be a source of spread.

How will the prizes be awarded? The podium is not that big to stay separate especially for the relay teams and how can you award flowers and a medal from two metres away? (Well you could try and throw the medal around the neck I suppose!)

Fans
As we saw last season biathlon without the fans is just not the same. However if mass gatherings are still banned then biathlon will be held behind closed doors possibly for the entire season.

Solutions?
Hopefully by the time the season opener comes around on the 28th of November in Kontiolahti these issues will not be a problem and we can go racing normally but what if we can’t?

There are a number of things the IBU could try to make sure the season goes ahead. The most radical would be to entirely change the schedule. For example in Moto GP, Formula 1 and for the Champions League the authorities are holding races and matches at one venue multiple times. Biathlon could also do this. Germany already hosts 2 World Cups so why not 3 and that would be one race block in one country with much less travel and movement involved.

Kontiolahti, Nove Mesto and Holmenkollen missed out last season with no fans and cancellations so why couldn’t they hold two races this season instead of one? The World Championship are in Pokljuka and with Antholz and Hochfilzen not so far away they could also be held around the same time. Yes it would take a lot of reorganisation and some venues would miss out but it is a possibility.

As for racing we already have a biathlon bubble. The biathlon family tends to stick together throughout the season competing, travelling and staying in local accomodation around the venues together. This should reduce the likelihood of transmission from outside sources.

Testing the biathletes and their teams and the officials regularly to make sure no one is spreading the virus will no doubt have to happen. If they were tested before returning from the breaks in the season like at Christmas or before World Championships it would find anyone who may have picked up the virus from returning home or seeing family.

However this throws up another issue about what happens if someone tests positive during a World Cup round or after coming back from the breaks? Obviously they would have to self isolate for 2 weeks but would their entire team have to do the same or the entire tour?

Travel could be made standard with all teams using chartered flights like they do already between some venues or if they choose to drive they could be always with the same people in the cars and also in the hotels at the venues. Or we could have a biathlon bus fleet!

Hopefully all the venues have been stocking up on personal protective equipment as the officials will need to wear gloves and masks when dealing with biathletes and their equipment like at the rifle checks or when fitting the transponders.

The fans is a tricky issue if there are no mass gatherings allowed in the winter. The fans make biathlon but it is still pretty watchable without them. The last two races of the season were incredible even without the crowd (but would have been even better with them!) because of the intense drama on the tracks.

Other sports have crowd noise played into the stadium to generate an atmosphere which is an option as some teams already do this in training to simulate race conditions. Also the number of spectators could be reduced to allow for more social distancing.

It is a tricky time for sport and the problems mentioned here hopefully will not come to pass. We all want biathlon to go ahead as normal this winter but it’s likely that it will have to make some changes. The possibility of behind closed doors races is probably the most likely scenario but at least that would be better than no biathlon at all!

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