Federico Fontana: The Interview!

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Federico Fontana is a ski and wax technician from Frassinoro in Italy. He has been working in biathlon for 4 years firstly with the Polish Team, then Great Britain and has just taken a new job with US biathlon. He currently lives in Germany but is still involved in the Frassinoro Summer Biathlon Festival. Apparently his nickname in biathlon is “Helmut” but we are not allowed to know why!!:-)

You can follow Federico on Twitter: @fedefontana82

How did you become a wax tech? Are you just a frustrated athlete or do you prefer the equipment/technical side?

A nice question..well I wasn’t like that, I was a cross country skier but after the junior category I decided I wasn’t good enough….or the results did it for me! I started to ski when I was around one year old (in my dad’s child backpack). In Frassinoro, my town, you don’t have any choice but to try to be a cross country skier so the passion for my sport is inside.

After my short career as an athlete I started all the steps to make it my profession first becoming a ski teacher then a 2nd level cross country and biathlon trainer with the dream to work at the top in the World Cup. An important role in that was played by my “GURU” Gianluca Marcolini,one of the best wax techs in the world, who was also my former coach and he gave me the motivation to achieve my goals and the biggest help to learn about wax and skis. He has always been my role model in that and with him my first ski teacher,a legend in Italian cross country skiing history, Leonello Biondini, president of my ski club, a dedicated person that loves the sport more than everything. He taught us to work hard and do it with passion and love.
I can never thank Gianluca and Leonello enough for what they gave me in my career.

After all my courses I worked for several years with my ski club coaching and waxing,then with the Emilia Romagna regional team (my region). Then in 2011 the opportunity came… I received a phone call from a person who at that time turned out to be an other important person in my life…Bruno Maddalin, asking me if I would like to work with him with the Polish team…the answer was easy:let’s do it!Two years with Bruno were perfect,if Gianluca was and is still my guru and my role model and one of my best friends,Bruno taught me so much,a great man,and very good friend now. The rest is history and I have more goals and hopefully a long career to come.

You just got a new job working for the US Team. How is it going so far?

Yes the contract with the US I can say is a big step forward for me, a huge injection of motivation and desire to do a great job.
After two years with Poland and one season with the British Team as main wax tech, which gave me a big opportunity to improve myself taking decisions and organizing a working system, the time came and I accepted without hesitation the offer from the US.
After the first months of work I’m really satisfied, it is a great team, hard working and really well organised….and other than that a really tight group of positive and friendly people, that always helps towards working for a good result.
We will show you next season what we can do!!!

Have you ever had any waxidents (accidents with wax)?

A nice question!….well I had… but I prefer not to mention it or describe it! Not good for kids but I just suggest you should always wash your hands after powder application even if it is only to go to the washroom 😉
Biathlon23 is very grateful to Federico for not going into detail here. You can use your imagination!!!

What advice would you give to someone who is learning to wax skis?

There are a lot of suggestions but the best and this is what someone said to me, and I chose to make it my motto is : in our job nothing is written, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can learn everything from the label of a powder bottle, don’t be afraid to try or to do crazy applications that don’t seem logical. Behind these things you can find the pot of gold!

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What are the best and worst things about being a wax tech?

Everyday I put everything into my job so as a person I remember everything, the good and bad things and I try to learn from all of it…also in the bad days you must learn a lesson and especially in this you must find the reason.
For sure when you have a good result and everybody is glad it is nicer, but you can find good things also when the skis are not perfect. Basically never give up!

How much input do the biathletes have when you are choosing the wax for the skis? Who makes the final decision?

For the wax athletes have nothing to do it is all in our hands. We work with them for the choice of the skis this of course, and it works like an exchange of feelings and several combinations,considering snow conditions, place, start number, weather etc…but most of the time when you and your athletes have a good connection they trust you 100% and in the end we choose for them.

Are you responsible for preparing all the skis or are you assigned to certain biathletes?

With the US I will be responsible for wax and application plus I will follow directly Susan Dunklee and our male talent Sean Doherty.
And I’m very happy for my position.

Describe your typical race weekend? What are your responsibilities, how long do you spend waxing, testing etc? Do you help on the tracks or shooting range during the race?

Oooh! Do you have enough space in the article? Just kidding! Everyday we write down a working plan schedule with time and action but basically to make it short the day can start at 8 am and finish at 8 or 9 pm.
During the race every tech has a job to do and we cover all the critical points of the race course following also the request of the coaches, for example if needed we do the feeding during the individual etc.. but me for example I will be the last to leave the cabin in case the weather changes and I receive from my colleagues information from the track…and if this happens it can be panic….you must be cold enough and have the solution ready in your pocket…and you can save or rescue the performance…basically it is hard work in stressful situations.

Is the world of wax quite secretive? Do you have special formulas that you don’t want other teams to know about?

Sure I like to keep everything secret, application formulas etc….everything that we develop stays in a database and only we know how we do it….we are jealous about our job!

What do you do in the summer? Roller skis don’t need wax so what do you do until the start of the new season?

In the summer we are not always on holiday, we also have a summer working schedule which means selecting skis,inventory and testing. For the rest of the time most of us have a second job. Me for example I work as a “pizzaiolo”(pizza baker) and cook helper in an Italian restaurant here in Germany! Cooking is one of my passions….these Italians. …pasta pizza e mandolino!!!

You are involved in the Frassinoro summer biathlon festival. Can you tell me something about it and why biathlon is so popular in such a small place?

This is something I’m really proud of! As I said we are a huge cross country center with a big tradition and good athletes in our history, but Frassinoro being a town of 700 people is funny because it seems like we have some genetics to be wax techs. Right now three of us work on the World Cup and in total there have been 6. The passion for biathlon grew up from me and another 3 or 4 guys, first going to Ruhpolding to watch the World Cup, and it was love at first sight. Day by day the group became bigger and bigger and the trips for the events more and more. Now it’s one of the largest fan clubs in Italy – The Frassinoro Biathlon Friends.

In Frassinoro we are stubborn and when we decide to do something we do it, typical of mountain people and the idea to bring an event home was born during a Saturday night aperitivo. We try to do as much as we can and I really want to make it clear that it is all volunteering, with help from sponsors and all done by ourselves. Now we showed to the institution that we are serious and we presented a project for a summer biathlon center which will complete the sport and touristic offers that we already give for the winter with an amazing cross country center also in the summer. They like it and the first installment of financing is approved!
It is worth it to visit our mountains even if they are not The Alps. They are amazing and Frassinoro is a wonderful place to do sport, relax and enjoy the typical friendly Italian lifestyle!

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Ruhpolding most for the atmosphere
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Past:Ole Einar….ok well he is still a present athlete (joking)
Present: my girlfriend….;-)
(Megan Heinicke)
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): pursuit
Favourite wax tech: Gianluca Marcolini
Favourite food: pasta and pizza
Favourite singer/band: Rod Stewart
Favourite film: I’m not a movie person but I like the historical genre
Favourite sports team: USA biathlon team
Favourite TV show: The Simpsons, Hells kitchen


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Gianluca Marcolini: The Interview!

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Gianluca Marcolini from Frassinoro, Italy is one of the top ski technicians working in biathlon at the moment. Previously he worked in cross country skiing and was ski technician to the likes of Stefania Belmondo and Dario Cologna. In 2013 he switched to biathlon to work with the Russian team in the run up to and during the Sochi Olympics. In 2014 he took up a position with the Norwegian team and he kindly took some time to talk to me about his job.

You can follow Gianluca on Twitter: @marcolinigluca

How did you become a ski technician? Are you just a frustrated athlete or do you prefer the equipment/technical side?

I’ve always been a lover of ski wax and skis as a child, I was an athlete as a young man but always with the passion of a ski technician.

You currently work for Norway. How does an Italian gets a job waxing for the Norwegians?

I work for Norway and I’m proud to work for them. It is the most I can ask, a dream come true. I consider myself privileged to have the honour to work for the number 1 nation in the world.

Have you ever had waxidents (accidents with wax)?

I’ve never had problems with my work, I have always tried to use the maximum precautions.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to be a ski technician?

The advice I could give to a person who wants to start the job of ski/wax tech is just to have a lot of passion and love the job.

What are the best and worst things about being a ski technician?

The best things are when your team wins and I’m able to do my job well. The worst thing for me doesn’t exist if you are supported by a group of wax techs, coaches, staff and athletes with whom you can talk openly, even when you are wrong, to try to find the mistake because that’s the only way you can grow positively.

How much input do biathletes have when choosing wax for skis? Who makes the final decision?

I think it’s important to have a good feeling with the athletes when testing skis both in training and before the race. The final decision for the selection of cross-country skis is taken between the ski technician and the athlete, but many times it takes just the ski tech to choose the skis and the products to be used on the racing skis.

Are you responsible for preparing all the skis or are you assigned to certain biathletes?

I mainly follow three athletes, Johannes Bø, Tarjei Bø and Synnøve Solemdal, but the whole group of ski technicians work together in harmony and help each other.

Describe your typical race weekend? What are your responsibilities, how much time do you spend waxing, tests, etc.?

I do not help on the tracks or shooting range during the race. I think the hours we spend in the ski room are already a lot. There is no timetable to start and finish it’s just when you think you’ve achieved the result you wanted. I sometimes go to help the coaches on track to give supplies to athletes.

Is the world of wax quite secretive? Do you have special formulas that you don’t want other teams to know about?

I try to do my work based on my experience and my professionalism. If I have any product or solution that I feel is good I want only my team using it and I don’t want it to be disclosed to the other teams.

What do you do in summer? Roller skis don’t need wax so what to do until the start of the new season?

In summer I talk with the ski companies, I go to the companies to research and test new skis for next season to try to always have the top skis.

The Italian biathlon team is doing really well right now. Why do you think that is?

I think that the Italian team is working very well both on shooting and on their physical abilities. When the Italians are strong in the race I’m happy, but I’m much happier when the Norwegians win.

Quick fire questions:

Favourite track biathlon: Holmenkollen
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Johannes Bo
Favorite event: (sprint, pursuit, etc.): all of them
Favourite Ski Tech: all of them
Favorite food: Pizza
Favourite singer/band: U2
Favorite Movie: Fast and Furious 6
Favorite team sport: cycling
Favourite TV show: quark

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Poles Apart!

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Ski poles- the forgotten piece of biathlon equipment! Everyone always talks about skis and waxing or rifles and ammunition but we hear very little about the humble ski pole. That was until last year when a certain Ole Einar Bjoerndalen decided to use some different ones! What different poles? Surely not! Why yes there exists a different type of pole but we will come back to that later.

Firstly we must share the history of the ski pole (yes there is one!). Excitingly people have been known to use ski poles since at least 4000 B.C. Rock drawings in Norway (where else!) show a man skiing and holding a staff. Back then it seems they only used one but rumour has it that one of Bjoerndalen’s earlier ancestors decided to introduce a second pole in around 1741 and from there we evolved to modern day cross country skiing!

Ski poles come in various lengths depending on the height of the individual using them. For skating or freestyle the measurement is usually taken from the ground to your upper lip. For classic it is a shorter ski. The ski shaft can be made from carbon fibre, aluminium or fibreglass reinforced plastic. The ski has a strap at the top and a basket at the bottom. Racing straps are like a sling that cradles your hand and holds it next to your pole, even if you let it go. The basket at the bottom is attached to stop the pole from sinking significantly into deep snow. These can range from being small, aerodynamic cones used in racing, to large snowflake shaped baskets which are used in powder skiing. The ski pole also has a tip on the end. High end poles have small racing-style tips. They’re light and have sharp points for good traction.

So now we return to the choice of Ole Einar to change his ski poles. Last season he used the curved ski pole which has a curve at the top just below the strap. The manufacturers claim that these ski poles can deliver up to 20% more propulsion power with each push which helps the skier to reach maximum speed faster and maintain maximum speed for longer. Bjoerndalen himself has said that he could gain 10-15 seconds per 10 km distance and he also noticed lower levels of lactate when he skis with them. He also commented that he thinks it improves his skiing technique.

Darya Domracheva used these skis last year too. I wonder who recommended them to her! 😉 Of course she went on to win the Overall Title so they obviously don’t make you any worse! As for Bjoerndalen well he didn’t do quite so well but then he is 41 and maybe not the best test case. It is hard to judge whether they will make a huge difference to biathletes as of course you can ski as fast as you want but if you miss targets the poles can’t help you much! Any advantage you can find though is always helpful and maybe biathletes who are a great shot but struggle with ski speed will find these useful and they might improve their results.

They didn’t however change the outcome of any races last season. Domracheva would have still won with the regular ski poles mainly because she is such a fantastic skier. It will be interesting to see if any other biathletes start using the curved poles for next year. It is only when a large percentage of them decide to do this that we will really see if they give you a genuine advantage. Until that time however the biathletes will remain Poles Apart!

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Trans-Atlantic Turmoil!

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The season is still over 4 months away but already there is trouble brewing over the World Cup schedule for the year. This season marks a return to racing in North America with World Cup 7 in Canmore, Canada and World Cup 8 in Presque Isle, USA. Great news for North American fans of biathlon but the decision hasn’t gone down quite as well with everyone.

Firstly we heard from World Cup holder Darya Domracheva who said she would be skipping the events to concentrate on the World Championships in Oslo. This basically means she won’t be defending her title and after having been recently diagnosed with mononucleosis she is unlikely to change her mind.

Next we heard from the three Top Norwegian men who are considering missing the two World Cup rounds to concentrate on their home World Championships. There is a two and a half week break between Presque Isle and Holmenkollen but it seems that this isn’t enough for them. Emil Hegle Svendsen wishes the races were in Europe and Tarjei Bø hates the way that it has been set up so there is a strong chance that they will remain at home. Johannes Thingnes Bø is of a similar opinion saying that not everyone is going to go to the North American rounds. With coach Egil Gjelland describing it as a “headache” the likelihood is that they won’t be the only ones thinking about their participation.

Do they have a point? Is the schedule a bad one? Well there was some discussion about putting the North American rounds at the start of the season so there has been concern about it for some time. This was deemed unworkable however as the first 2 stops in Oestersund and Hochfilzen can guarantee snow whether from the sky, storage or stolen from the mountains. It wouldn’t be great if everyone went to Canada at the start of the season and then the races were cancelled. There is also the matter of money. Quite a few of the smaller nations will probably not be able to afford to attend these rounds due to travel and accomodation costs and so holding them at the start would be a disadvantage to them.

In reality there is not another space on the calendar for these events. It’s not as if you could go there another year instead as the future World Championships are also in Europe. So what then is the point of going at all? Well there are many reasons. The Canadians and Americans have to come over to Europe and stay there for anything up to six months which incurs huge accommodation costs. They can’t go home for the weekend! If they are lucky they might get home over Christmas but then they have to suffer jet lag when they come back. They are also doing very well at the moment and deserve some home races.

Usually the World Cup goes to North America once every 4 or 5 years so it is only right and fair that they get the opportunity to grow the sport there by hosting events. Not to mention the great facilities and amazing scenery that they can boast. The IBU have also decided to put Canmore first because of the great access to Calgary airport with many flights from Europe and then Presque Isle second to make the return flight to Europe shorter. So they have tried really hard to make the transition back to Europe as easy as possible which in reality they didn’t have to do.

On the other hand you can understand some of the Norwegians concerns. It is a long journey and the different time zones not only between Europe and Canada but also between Canmore and Presque Isle mean it will be hard on the body clock. Their main worry of course is being in the best shape possible for the World Championships. It is not often you get to race those at home and let’s face it they do have very good chances of winning medals! However they might change their minds closer to the time if one of them is in with a chance of winning the Overall Title.

No one has officially pulled out of the race yet as it is far too early to do so. However if they do it will be a real shame for the North American spectators not to see such great biathletes racing. On the other hand it might increase the chances of the home biathletes like Nathan Smith, Rosanna Crawford, Tim Burke and Susan Dunklee winning or making the podium at their home races!!!

In an ideal world everyone would go to race in Canada and the US. I am afraid however that there will be some absences and the Norwegians are the likeliest to skip the rounds. They should be careful though because if they are not competing at the top level before the Championships they might not arrive in Holmenkollen in top race condition. I am sure Martin Fourcade, if he is fit and healthy, will be in North America and he could also go to Oslo and make Svendsen and the Bø brothers regret their decision. It would be nice if a Canadian or American wins a medal in Norway too just to show it can be done!! There is still a long time until we get to these races but I don’t think it will be last we hear of the Trans-Atlantic turmoil!

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Max Durtschi: The Interview!

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Max Durtschi from Ketchum, Idaho in America is one of US biathlon’s newest recruits. He made the decision to become a biathlete after retiring from professional cycling. When he was young he was an accomplished cross country skier and also enjoyed shooting so naturally he became a cyclist!!! Now having seen the error of his ways the 24-year-old is embarking on a new career in biathlon and he made his debut on the IBU Cup last season in Canmore.

You can follow Max on Twitter: @MaxDurtschi

You used to be a professional cyclist. How and why did you become a biathlete?

I grew up ski racing and spent a lot of time shooting with my father. In 2013, I retired from cycling, and really wanted to get back to my skiing roots. At some point during that winter I was shooting with a friend and something clicked. I thought, “I need to try biathlon.” I can’t explain why the thought came to my mind, but it was pretty clear to me that I should give the sport a shot.

As someone who is relatively new to biathlon what do you find most difficult? What are the things you need to improve on for the coming season?

The coming season is really exciting for me because I can improve in everything. I did not have a chance to ski often when I was a cyclist and learning how to shoot well and consistently is a big challenge. A focus of mine this summer is to build strength in my upper body. I lost a lot of that during my time as a cyclist.


What were your goals for last season and did you achieve them?

Last year my goal was to learn. Every single day I wanted to make progress and educate myself. At the beginning of the year I did not even know what the different race formats were. By the end of the season I was able to compete in an IBU Cup in Canmore, which was a very valuable learning experience. Overall, last season was challenging, but I can be happy with the progress I made.

Do you receive any funding? If not how do you pay for equipment, travel etc?

I am very fortunate to be supported by USA Biathlon. They are providing me with the structure that I need to succeed. In addition, Powerbar, Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Foundation, and Play Hard Give Back provide me with remarkable support.

What’s your typical day like?

Everyday I wake up and take a moment to make a decision, “Today, am I going to work hard to be better at my trade?” The answer is always “Yes.” From there, my day is filled with skiing, running, shooting, gym work, and other forms of training. I do usually have time to eat a bit and have a nap too…

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Have you been able to train with anyone from the World Cup Team yet? If so what was it like? What did you learn from them?

I am very fortunate to interact with the World Cup athletes on a daily basis. They bring a level of professionalism to every single training session. I have learned from the focus they exhibit during shooting exercises. They make every single bullet count on the range, and I strive to do the same.

If you could steal one characteristic from another biathlete, what would it be, who from and why?

I admire the body language of Johannes Thingnes Boe when he approaches the range. He looks mean, assertive, and confident – like he is hunting the targets. I try to keep that same attitude in training and racing.

Who is your role model? (in biathlon or in general)

I really admire the work ethic of my parents. Both have incredible stories, and are great examples of determination overcoming circumstance. When my training sessions are particularly hard, I think about the things they have had to overcome and it inspires me.

Sportspeople are famous for being superstitious. Do you have any superstitions? Do you always put your right/left ski on first or wear the same underwear on race day?!

I am not superstitious. I believe that confidence is a very important trait in sport and regardless of external factors, I believe that everyday I am capable of performing well.

What do you do to relax and forget about biathlon for a bit?

I really enjoy fishing, watching movies, and reading. I live with Sean Doherty at the Olympic Training Center, and we have a really good time together joking and talking. This really helps keep my mind off of sport when need be.

Normally I ask if your rifle has a name but your rifle has a whole life story. Can you tell me about it?

My rifle means a lot to me. It belonged to a remarkable young man, and friend of mine, Willie Neal. He passed away, but his spirit is alive and well. He inspires me to work hard every day. His family was kind enough to pass his rifle on to me, and I do my best to represent Willie in a positive light.
For more about Willie Neal and the Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Foundation see here: http://www.wnealenvirofund.org/

Describe yourself in three words.

This is tough… I will go with: Relaxed, Thoughtful, Driven.

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Hochfilzen, Austria
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Tim Burke
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): Individual
Favourite/best race of your career so far? Individual IBU CUP 8 Canmore, AB
Favourite food: Good Oatmeal
Favourite singer/band: Kelly Joe Phelps
Favourite film: So many! Apollo 13
Favourite sports team: Seattle Seahawks
Favourite TV show: SportsCenter

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Sofie Hopkins: The Interview!

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18-year-old Sofie Hopkins from Great Britain is a great example of the perseverance you need to become a biathlete. Coming from a country where biathlon is not popular it is a very difficult career to choose and requires a lot of sacrifice and determination as well as courage. Here she talks about her goals for the future and her clear love of the sport.

You can follow Sofie on Twitter: @Sofiehops
She has a Facebook page: Sofie Hopkins (Sportsperson)
She has her own blog: https://landofsofie.wordpress.com/

Biathlon isn’t a big sport in Great Britain. How did you discover it and why did you want to become a biathlete?
I first discovered biathlon through my Dad’s Army friend as he had done a bit of biathlon with the military. He also was first to suggest the idea as at the time I was competing in National Cross Country and Hockey Events with the Army Cadet Force which I really enjoyed. I knew then I wanted to pursue a career in a sport and that’s when my Dad’s friend turned around and observed that “I had really big feet” (I was a size 9 when I was 13) and my build was similar to most biathletes already. I then searched biathlon online and I instantly fell in love with it and watched it everyday for a month on youtube. My Dad asked me if I really wanted to do such an insane sport and if was I willing to dedicate my time as he explained it would be a lot of sacrifice. I replied with a yes and from that day on that is exactly what I have done.

How much and what kind of training do you? Do you have a coach?
I train 5 days a week, however it has been cut down to 3 at the moment due to my A Level exams. I use roller skis for 4 of the days where I do endurance one day, technique another and then focus on speed wherever I can fit it in. I also go to the gym once a week where I do biathlon specific exercises, for example: pulling down on wires but adding weight each time. I am also an avid runner and like to do the occasional 10km once every other week as I still compete in local running competitions to get more experience in terms of competing. I’m also very fortunate to use the uphill slope at the ski centre in Xscape, Castleford as the staff kindly allow me to use the uphill and junior slope at 6am before customers arrive. After I have done my one and a half hours of skiing I then do another hour of Alpine Skiing with The Lions Ski Club as I also really enjoy other skiing disciplines and it is helpful as I can usually incorporate some of the skills into my biathlon. My coach is my Dad as he has supported me throughout my Biathlon journey and our close father and daughter relationship has really helped. My Dad is not a skiing coach, but after serving as an officer in the military as a Sniper for over 20 years and also qualifying to be an NRA coach he knows a lot about shooting. He gave up his job in the Army to focus on training me, which means the world to me.The skiing side was purely self-taught from watching youtube videos and also gathering tips from many other people over the years. Shooting has also been a big part of my life as I started shooting at the age of 5 where me and my father would go out and hunt for rabbits.

How do you balance training and competing with your education and social life? Are there things you would like to do but can’t because of training?
I find that my flexible timetable at college helps me to fit in my training perfectly as most of the time I only do quarter or half days of lessons. This allows me to do a lot of training, although when I get home at 6pm then I focus on my studies for a good 4 hours before getting an early night. However due to the intensity of my training I do find it very hard to concentrate on my work and sometimes end up falling asleep very early whilst I’m doing my homework. In terms of my social life I feel that in my first 2 years I put my social life on hold. I went to occasional events to support my other friends in their future careers, however training dominated most of my time. I now do squeeze in time to see my friends on a weekend as I think that it’s good to have some free time to socialise as it creates a good balance between the two. If I wasn’t training for biathlon I really don’t know what I would be doing. Biathlon has changed my life for the better. It has become a part of who I am.

Do you receive any funding? If not how do you pay for equipment, travel etc?
I do not receive any “official” long term funding at the moment. However I have recently secured a sponsorship deal with Eley Ammunition who are supplying me with 5,000 rounds a year and Eley merchandise which has been a big help. The money for travelling and equipment is all saved and self raised by me and my parents. I go skiing at a Caravan Park near where I live and by doing raffles and just by talking to people on the campsite we managed to raise a £100 pound in 1 week, which is incredible. The manager on the site also shaved his hair off last year to raise money for me and we made an immense amount of money and it was a brilliant day for me and all the caravaners. If we are not doing raffles or anything special a lot of people I meet give me a donation out of the kindness of their hearts and I’m forever grateful. In terms of my rifle which is not cheap my parents managed to save up £1000 pounds which we knew wasn’t enough and was preying on our minds for months. However luckily the owner of the Shooting ground where I shoot twice a week ordered my Anschutz rifle and paid the rest of the money for it. He also got a good friend to make me my own range, which in total cost £2000 pounds. I can’t believe how generous people have been. Me and my Father over the past four years wrote letter after to letter to every different company you could think of and all we got was a resounding “no” or no response at all. The first year me and my parents planned a Summer Trip to the DKB Skihalle in Oberhof we had to scrape what money we had together to get there. We couldn’t afford a plane or an apartment so my Dad drove his car what seemed liked 3000+ miles over the border at Dover all the way down to Oberhof where we had to find a campsite and sleep in a tent. Even with a low budget we have always tried to get there. I’ve always said you have to sacrifice for what you love.

Did you go to the British Championships in Ruhpolding? How did you do and what did you learn from the experience?
This year was my second year of competing at the British Championships and I learnt an awful lot. I didn’t do as well as the previous year, but after a week of analysing what went wrong I am really grateful that the slips ups happened so I can work on them. The biggest thing I learnt not only about competing, but about myself was that I can not achieve under pressure. I started off really well on the 7.5km Sprint, which I wasn’t aware of until I got pulled off as everything started going in slow motion around me and I just collapsed under the pressure to achieve as I had done so well the year before.

For more about this you can read Sofie’s thoughts on her blog here: https://landofsofie.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/the-pressures-of-competition-my-story/

What are your goals for the rest of this year and the future?
My goals for this year was to build up my confidence in a competition scenario again which I feel I have already conquered through the different competitions I have been entering since January and I now feel comfortable and a competitive scene has no longer become overwhelming. My long term future goals is to get to the highest level in the sport that I can. I would love to one day be in the World Cup, it would be an honour to be skiing with some of the Worlds greatest biathletes!

What are your strengths as a biathlete and what are your weaknesses? Do you have anything that you specifically want to work on just now?
I feel my strengths are on the range as I’ve been shooting since I was 5 years old so it is pretty much second nature to me. However as far as weaknesses my speed on the flats has always been an issue. I do think that it is slowly improving as people have noticed that my glide technique (or Skate 1) has improved tenfold in comparison to what it was a year ago. If I were to be my own critic I now think that maintaining speed around a course is a big weakness overall and hopefully my summer training regime will help me to practice and perfect this.

If you could steal one characteristic from another biathlete, what would it be, who from and why?
I think I would have to borrow Darya Domracheva’s technique. She is so effortless on the snow, but still so fast. Although it’s obviously really tough she makes it look like a walk in the park whilst also making it look stylish in some way.

Who is your role model? (in biathlon or in general)
My biathlon heroine is hands down Magdalena Neuner. She has won so many titles and did it in such a short space of time. I really admire her work ethic and also the way she was confident to criticise some training methods and try ones that she had created herself. My ultimate role model is my Dad, he has such a great attitude to life and sacrificed so much to give me the best life possible and make sure I do everything with my best efforts. He has always encouraged me to do things that I have been scared or unsure about so that I have no fear, which has made me stronger and more confident. My Dad has also done lots of great things in his life independently and I hope to follow in his footsteps and make him proud!

What do you do to relax and forget about biathlon for a bit?
I find a day with my friends and having a catch up over a cup of tea is the perfect way to switch off from training. I like to keep my friends and my work (as in training) separate, although of course they are very supportive and I always keep them up to date with my progress as they generally find it interesting listening to my stories. If I’m not doing that I will sit on the sofa watching movies or reading books for long periods of time. Once I’m in a good book you can’t take me away!

Describe yourself in three words.
Shy, Serious and Loving.

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track:Oberhof
Favourite biathlete (past or present):Martin Fourcade
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): Individual
Favourite/best race of your career so far? British Championships 2015, 12.5km Women’s Individual
Favourite food: Olives
Favourite singer/band: Jackie Evancho
Favourite film: The Burbs
Favourite TV show: Sherlock Holmes

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Johanna Talihärm: The Interview!

Talihärm

Johanna Talihärm is an Estonian biathlete who was born on the 27th of June 1993 in Tallinn. She is a part of the Estonian Women’s Relay Team and last season she broke into the TOP 40 on the World Cup. She has a brother who is also a biathlete. Next season she will be trying to get into that TOP 40 more often and score some more points if she can sort out her prone shooting!

Blog:http://www.johannablogi.blogspot.co.uk/
Twitter: @johannataliharm
Facebook: Estonian Fantastic Four in the biathlon world

How popular is biathlon in Estonia?

Biathlon used to be in the shadow of cross county skiing which is “the national sport” in Estonia, but we are gaining popularity now.
You can help too by following Estonian fantastic four on Facebook!

You achieved your best career result last season at the World Championships in Kontiolahti coming 39th in the Sprint in difficult conditions. How good did that feel and how much confidence has it given you for next season?

I had a rough start for the 2014/15 season. Then I started to feel better, gained energy and confidence during the season and was finally prepared to give my best in the World Championships. After 3 penalties in prone I thought the race is over, but I got myself together again and pushed as hard as I could and cleaned the standing. I never thought I had a chance for points with 3(!!!) penalties, I was super happy that I finally reached the top 40 goal I had had for so long. It showed me how much more is possible with clean shooting.

The Estonian Women’s Team seem to be very good friends. How nice is it to travel and compete in such a good atmosphere?

I don’t even want to imagine how hard and boring it would be if we didn’t get along so well. I feel so lucky to be able to call my teammates my best friends. It is great to share the emotions, no matter if they are good or bad with them immediately. To explore the world with them! And of course to race in the same relay team!

What are your plans for summer training?

We have a new team coach with whom I personally have worked since last August. We’re mostly training in Otepää, where we have an amazing center with a 6km rollerski track with two shooting ranges.

What are your goals for next season?

To improve technique and balance, to hit more targets and shoot faster.

Describe your typical race day. What time do you get up? What do you eat? etc.

It depends on what time the race starts. Usually our races are in the afternoon so I like to sleep longer, have breakfast, then go for a run and have an light lunch and get ready to go to the stadium. I eat “normal food” but avoid milk products because they don’t suit my stomach.

What are your strengths as a biathlete and what are your weaknesses? Do you have anything that you specifically want to improve before next season?

I am quite a slow shooter, and also much worse in prone than standing. Ski wise I want to improve balance and technique.

Sportspeople are famous for being superstitious. Do you have any superstitions? Do you always put your right/left ski on first or wear the same underwear on race day?!

I usually wear my favorite pieces of clothing, but just because they are the most comfortable. Also I have a routine of warm up exercises, which I do every time before the start.

How difficult is it to keep up with the WADA rules for doping? Is it hard to keep track of all your food, supplements and medicines etc?

It comes with time, and now we have a database made by the Estonian anti-doping where we can search for all the medicines sold in Estonia to see if they are allowed or not.

I don’t want to criticize but you are Johanna and your brother is called Johan which shows a lack of imagination by your parents!!!;-) Does this ever cause any confusion because your names are so similar?

You are not the first one to ask this question. Both Johan and Johanna are very common names in Estonia and Scandinavia so usually there is no problem. Our parents just wanted them to be similar for both siblings and international.

Does your rifle have a name?

I usually call it “rifle” or “gun” 🙂

Describe yourself in three words.

Smiling, independent, lively.

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Oslo
Favourite biathlete (past or present):The whole biathlon family is super friendly and fun, it would be a shame to pick just one.
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): pursuit and relay
Favourite/best race of your career so far? First ever clean shooting at the Sochi Olympics
Favourite food: chocolate
Favourite singer/band: can change daily
Favourite film: 1+1 (The Intouchables)
Favourite TV show: news or any other show that is not read in some language that I can’t understand.

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