Robert Sircus: The Interview!

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Next under the Biathlon23 microscope is Great Britain’s Robert Sircus. The 19 year old has already competed in 1 World Youth/Junior World Championships in Presque Isle. Here he answers questions about what is like being a young biathlete.

You can follow Robert on Twitter: @robarvidsircus
You can also find him on Facebook: Robert Sircus Biathlete!

As a British athlete you have chosen a really tough sport to compete in. Why did you want to become a biathlete instead of another type of sportsman like a football or tennis player?

I started biathlon when I was ten because I thought rollerskiing looked like fun. Since then I have come to enjoy competing and pushing myself to be a better athlete. I chose biathlon over other sports because I love the sheer variety of the training – if I did most of my training as rollerskiing or running or cycling I would get bored of the sport but because we do so much that is different it keeps it interesting.

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?

It is tough balancing training with studies but the staff at Edinburgh University are really understanding and do what they can to aid me. As a member of the University’s performance sport programme I am also able to train alongside other athletes in similar positions. Finding time for socialising is a bit harder but I always try to spend as much time as possible with friends.

What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me might involve getting up early for a morning training session and going straight from there to morning lectures. I might get a short break in the afternoon but then it’s back to studies followed by a quick meal and a longer training session. I might then get some time to relax in the evening provided I do not have too much homework.

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

I do not get much funding since biathlon is such a small sport in the UK. I get a bit from some sports charities and some help from a few local companies. I also get some equipment from Fischer and Team Out-There as well as free contact lenses from my local opticians but everything else has to be paid for by myself.

Will you be competing in Raubichi in the World Youth/Junior Championships? What is the selection criteria for your country?

I am going to Junior World’s this year. I was selected -along with Sam Cairns and Scott Dixon following the two World/IBU Cup selection races in Beitostolen in November. The fourth man will be selected after some more races in January.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a biathlete?

The best thing about being a biathlete is having the opportunity to travel to places I would otherwise never get to visit and meeting other athletes from other nations. There are really no negatives as far as I am concerned although it is a shame when I don’t get to go out with friends.

What would you like to change about biathlon? (the rules, equipment, schedule etc).

I would like to see a proper sprint event brought into biathlon like they have in cross-country since at the moment there isn’t really any event for shorter distance athletes and I think it could be exciting to watch.

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

Dave Smith who is a Paralympic athlete from my home-town is easily the most inspirational person I have ever met and he has had a massive impact on my approach to training and competition over the past few years. My coach Mike Dixon who has coached me since I first started biathlon has been a great role model for me over the years and is still my first port of call for advice or support.

To learn more about Dave Smith see his website: http://www.davidasmith.co.uk/

You have spent some time training in Norway with the Norwegians. What was that like and how has it made you a better biathlete?

My year in Norway was an incredible experience both culturally and in training. The biggest factors were having other biathletes surrounding me who pushed me every day, making me a much better athlete than I was before I started my time there, and having regular competition throughout the Winter for the first time in my life so now I am much more settled when I line up to start a race.

Does your rifle have a name?

I have often considered naming my rifle to make it more personal but I have never come up with any good names. I am open to any suggestions.

Quick Fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: I loved Voss but Ruhpolding is also very special to me since it is where I did my first ever biathlon race.
Favourite biathlete (past or present): I don’t really have a favourite although, like I said before, Mike Dixon has always been a big inspiration for me.
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): I love the pursuit because I think it is the most exciting race as an an athlete.
Favourite/best race of your career so far? The one that gave me the best feeling was the sprint at the 2013 Norwegian Summer Championships where I finished in 7th place which surprised all of the Norwegian athletes who didn’t believe Brit’s could ski. However that has since been surpassed. The race which gave me the best feeling was the mass start at the British Trials this year. The shooting wasn’t my best ever but I have never felt stronger on the skis and the satisfaction of knowing I had done enough to qualify for the IBU cup team was fantastic.

Favourite singer/band: It varies from day to day but I really like groups like Imagine Dragons and The Script
Favourite film: The Departed
Favourite sports team: Liverpool FC and Glasgow Warriors RFC
Favourite TV show: Game of Thrones

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‘Fil-zen you in!

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To Austria this week and between eating strudel, singing all the songs from The Sound of Music and getting into trouble for outrageous stereotyping there was just about time for some biathlon! Generally speaking shooting clean in a Sprint Race means you have a good chance of winning it. Not however if you happen to be racing against Kaisa Makarainen! At the moment she can afford a miss and still win, much to the consternation of Karin Oberhofer. The Italian produced a great race, shooting clean, that ended with her first ever podium. Second place is fantastic for the Italian but it would have been first but for Makarainen’s amazing ski speed. In third was Tiril Eckhoff who is rapidly emerging as a real contender for the Chrystal Globe. Other ladies who impressed were France’s Justine Braisaz who on her World Cup debut finished 17th. Enora Latuilliere continued her good progress in 20th the German ladies had 3 in the TOP 10 -Hildebrand 5th, Hinz 6th and Preuss 10th.

The men’s race was a bit of a surprise even before it began with Fourcade and Bjoerndalen choosing to go in group 4 with the later starters. This was to take advantage of colder conditions making a faster track. It didn’t work and Johannes Thingnes Bø skied round like a rocket beating the field by 14 seconds. The Germans also did well here completing the podium with Simon Schempp in second and Andi Birnbacher third. Home favourite Dominik Landertinger just missed the podium coming in fourth. Elsewhere Dutch biathlete Joel Sloof qualified for his first ever Pursuit by coming in 52nd and Romania’s Cornel Puchianu matched last weeks 28th place to equal his best result.

Saturday saw the first Men’s and Women’s Relays of the season. Well they were definitely worth the wait. The Women’s race was one of the best I have seen in a long time. The lead changed several times and there were so many good performances and of course a few bad ones which made it all the more exciting. The Germans carried their great Sprint form over and were so calm and collected for such a young team especially Preuss who was on the last leg. Kummer also did well on the first leg and Hildebrand and Hinz were strong in between. It did look like Russia might cruise to victory but Glazyrina had a total meltdown on the range and handed the win to Germany. Domracheva outskied Vitkova to take second, an exceptional result for them and the Czechs were impressive in third. Italy’s chances of a podium were ruined by some bad shooting from Gontier and Tiril Eckhoff pulled of a miracle to get Norway back to 5th after starting her leg in 14th!

The Men’s race was characterised by some excellent shooting. The Russians won by only using one spare round which is incredible! Lapshin was the culprit missing one target but we can forgive him! The French also shot well only using 4 spare rounds and Norway came in third despite Birkeland and Tarjei Bø both needing all three spares in their standing shoots on legs three and four. Austria and Germany had a sprint for fourth where Landertinger beat Schempp to the line and Canada finished in sixth,a good result for them.

Sunday was Pursuit day and a dominant Kaisa Makarainen was untroubled on her way to victory. She missed 1 shot but won with time to spare. In second was Ekaterina Glazyrina who recovered in incredibly quick time from her relay disaster and also just missed 1 target. In third was France’s Anais Bescond with her best result of the season so far. She had the strength at the end to hold off Podchufarova who was 4th and a magnificent Rosanna Crawford who came from 34th to finish 5th which is a career best result for her. Other good performances came from Monika Hojnisz (POL) 40th-11th, Nadezhda Skardino (BLR) 36th-12th, Annelise Cook (USA) 50th-33rd and Daria Virolaynen (RUS) 51st-35th!

The men ended the weekend with a shocking result! Yes Martin Fourcade won – that hardly ever happens!;-) Actually he wouldn’t have won if Johannes Bø hadn’t missed two targets in his third shoot when he was well in control of the race. Simon Schempp was second proving he has a last found some consistency and Jakov Fak came in third holding off the challenge from a tired looking Johannes Bø. Vladimir Iliev added to his 19th place in the Sprint with an 11th place here which is great news for Bulgarian biathlon and other good races were had by Quentin Fillon Maillet (FRA) 45th-15th, Fredrik Lindstrom 47th-22nd and Leif Nordgren (USA) 51st-37th.

Overall Hochfilzen was a great race weekend and thank god they got the snow to let it go ahead. Kaisa Makarainen extended her lead in the yellow bib and Martin Fourcade will wear the men’s next week after wrestling it from Svendsen. Thursday is when we race again in Pokljuka and with the great results form the Slovenia biathletes the home crowd will be really looking forward to it. The biathlete will be looking forward to a sneaky Kremna Rezina(delicious Slovenian dessert!) down in Bled too! I really enjoyed all the races in Austria and I also enjoyed ‘Filzen you in!

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Martin Femsteinevik: The Interview

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Today’s subject is young Norwegian biathlete Martin Femsteinevik. He was born on the 16th of February 1994 and took part in last year’s Youth/Junior World Championships where he achieved a best placed finish of 5th in the Junior Men’s Individual race. He is obviously very passionate about biathlon and is a pretty inspirational young man as you will soon read!

You can follow Martin on Twitter: @MFemsteinevik

Biathlon is really popular in Norway and therefore really competitive. Why did you want to be a biathlete and how hard is it to get into the team?

I tried biathlon for the first time when I was 6 years old. My dad had a biathlon rifle from when he was young, and I got to try it then. After those shots I really thought this was fun, and it was something I wanted to do more of. So when I was 7 years old (almost 8) I started to compete in biathlon races. After the first race I was so happy and satisfied that I wanted to continue my career. And after that it has just become more and more biathlon for me.
I got another motivational boost were I really said to myself that I want to be among the best biathletes in the world when I was 13.5 years old. At that time I was diagnosed with leukemia (blood cancer) and one of the first things I thought and said to myself was that I am gonna get through this, and come back to biathlon to be one of the best athletes in the world. And I think that when I was sick I saved up so much motivation to come back to biathlon that I could go on for many more years.

It is really hard to get into the Norwegian national team in biathlon. There are many good athletes in Norway that have never been on a national team, but still could have been high on the lists in the IBU cup or even taken points in the World cup. Because of this top Norwegian biathletes always try to become better and develop both their strong and weak sides. This means that Norwegian biathlon still can be really good for more years.

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?

This season is the first season I am not attending any school. So it will be a new experience for me. In the last seasons I have attended a secondary school were we had training between lessons four times a week. This has really helped me, both with getting through my education with some motivation to perform well in school, and to make me a better biathlete.
Outside biathlon I do not have a social life like other persons of my age. I come from a really small place in the western part of Norway, and most of my friends are or have been biathletes. So I´m social with friends at competitions and training camps. Some might say that I am losing something when I´m so dedicated to my sport, but for me biathlon is life and therefore I think that I´m not losing anything.

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

I have some local companies that are funding me, but I also take some of the cost myself. However the Norwegian biathlon union has a lot of money, so when we are traveling to training camps with the national junior team NSSF pays the travel, accommodation and food. And also when competing in Junior World Champs IBU cup or World Cup NSSF pays for everything. So that means that you do not have to be really rich to be a biathlete in Norway.
When it comes to equipment athletes on national teams get clothes from NSSF´s clothing sponsor SWIX and when it comes to boots and skis I have a contract with Rossignol.

Will you be competing in Raubichi in the World Youth/Junior Championships? What is the selection criteria for your country?

I hope so, but there haven´t been any qualifying races yet. We will have three weekends of Norwegian cup, with a total of six races where the four best races count in the qualifying. The races will be in early December, early January and mid/late January.

What the best and worst thing about being a biathlete?

The best thing about being a biathlete is that I get to do what I love every day.
I cannot come up with anything that I will name as the worst thing about being a biathlete because I like almost everything about it.

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

I would steal Martin Fourcade´s way to ski. The way he plays and tries different techniques during a race, from sprinting the last few hundred meters before the shooting to just relax in the middle of a small group on the last lap. He has the ability to change his plans depending on how he and the athletes around him perform. And I think that this is one of the reasons that he has become the best overall biathlete for the last three seasons.

What would you like to change about biathlon? (the rules, equipment, schedule etc).

Today I can´t come up with anything that I want to change about biathlon. The IBU have done a really great job by making biathlon an extremely TV-friendly sport with short skiing courses and man vs. man shootouts on the shooting field. So people think that it is very exciting. Here in Norway most people that I speak with tell me that they think biathlon is the most exciting sport to watch on the TV because nothing is settled until the last shot is fired, anything can happen. And that is what is so good about biathlon. And now the TV-companies make sure we get brilliant pictures both from the shooting range and the track, so I think that biathlon is good as it is today. But we must of course try to develop and evolve biathlon further when that is necessary.

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

In biathlon Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is a big role model for me. He has competed in the absolute world class for over 20 years, since before I was born. This means that from the very first time I tried biathlon he was among the best in the world, and he has been that ever since. Also he is Norwegian, and to have a person like him to look up to for a young biathlete has been great. He is extremely detail oriented and everything he does is planned so that he can perform as well as possible. I think that this is what has made him so good. He has always looked at what he can do better and tried to develop himself and his equipment as fast as possible. And this is one of the main reasons I have him as a role model because he has done so much for biathlon in his career.

What’s your typical day like?

I normally wake up 7.30 then breakfast. Start the first training session between 8.30 and 9.00. Lunch 11.00 – 12.00. Relaxing until next training session. 15.30 – 16.00 second training session. 18.00 dinner 22.00 go to bed.

Norway has many world class biathletes. Do you ever get to train with Bjoerndalen or Svendsen or do they help you with tips and advice? Does Emil give free shampoo to everyone?

As I live in western Norway I do not see the world class Norwegian biathletes so often. Most of them live in the eastern part of Norway, about 7 hours travel by car from where I live. But I sometimes meet them when we are on training camps. But I do not train with them or get tips from them now. I guess they are occupied with themselves, and trying to do their best to get ready for a new season.
I have not gotten any shampoo from Emil yet! hehe

Does your rifle have a name?

No I have not given my rifle a name. But considering the time I use to take care of it I might have to give it a name soon. But for now its just the rifle.

Describe yourself in three words.

Impatient, detailed, vigilant

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Nordic heritage center (Presque Isle)

Favourite biathlete (past or present): Raphaèl Poirèe

Favourite event:(sprint, pursuit etc): Mass start / Relay

Favourite/best race of your career so far? Junior Norwegian championships 2013 (2 individual golds, and best leg time on the relay)

Favourite food: «Pinnakjøtt» traditional Norwegian christmas food, sheep meat with potatoes and mashed turnips

Favourite singer/band: The Killers

Favourite film: James Bond: Skyfall

Favourite sports team: Real Madrid FC

Favourite TV show: Top Gear

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Östersund: Swede Emotions!

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It’s back! Biathlon came back with a bang in Östersund! Wow and what a Mixed Relay they delivered for us to get the new season underway. They kept us guessing right until the end but as usual “the shark” Martin Fourcade waited until the last moment to seize his prey(you can almost hear the music from Jaws as he sneaks up behind people!!!). Norway came in second despite a penalty loop and the German team were third. A great win for France and a great opening race. Well OK so it wasn’t great for everyone just ask Ondrej Moravec and Jakov Fak among others but everyone has their bad days even the best.

Which is exactly what happened to Fourcade himself in the Individual Race! Another Östersund meltdown on the shooting range to add to his collection. It’s how he likes to start the season! At the opposite end of the scale was Emil! Wow one of the best shooting performances I have seen from Svendsen and he was the only man to shoot 0. Second was a surprising yet brilliant display from Serhiy Semenov and it was great to see Michal Slesingr back on the podium after a rough year last season. Italian youngster Thomas Bormolini made a rather impressive World Cup debut finishing 19th.

Unfortunately for the other women in the Individual race star of last year’s Olympics Darya Domracheva seems to be continuing her amazing form into this season. Her ski speed is great as usual but she is shooting really well too. She took the win and was followed by Kaisa Makarainen who is also in great form and this race will probably set the tone for an ongoing battle between these two over the season. Valj Semerenko produced a clear shoot to come in third. Home girl Elisabeth Hoegberg gave the crowd something to cheer about finishing 9th and two World Cup debutants made it look easy by finishing in the TOP 20, France’s Enora Latuilliere in 13th and Luise Kummer of Germany in 18th.

Everyone had Friday off for good behaviour and so we had to wait until Saturday to see the first Sprints of the season. The men started things off and the real Martin Fourcade showed up again after his 81st place in the Individual and won easily with 28 seconds to spare! I was also happy to see Moravec and Fak recovering from their Relay nightmare on the range to both shoot clean and come home second and third. The women’s Sprint saw Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff storm home to win her first ever World Cup race. I am sure her brother and coach Stian will be trying to take all the credit – you know what brother’s are like! The Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova took second further adding to the her teams fantastic start to the season and third was Kaisa Makarainen. Latuilliere again showed what a great young talent she is by coming 10th.

So that left us with just the Pursuit races to go and the men’s looked like it was going to be an easy win for Fourcade. Bless him though he missed his first two shots to make it exciting for us to watch but inevitably he still won. Anton Shipulin produced a very calm and collected race to get second and Emil Svendsen came home third to keep the yellow bib on his back. Canada’s Nathan Smith ran a great race until the final shoot when I think the exertions of keeping up with Svendsen caused him to miss 3 shots and he ended up 16th. Back down the field a little there were some tremendous performances from Dominik Landertinger 30th-5th, Andi Birnbacher 22nd-7th, Klemen Bauer 26th-12th, Freddie Lindstrom 36th-13th and Vetle Christiansen 45th -15th!

The women’s race was won in great style by Kaisa Makarainen. On the third shoot when everyone around her was missing targets she took her time and used all her valuable experience to shoot clear and ski to victory. Valj Semerenko continued her good form by beating Dorothea Wierer into second although the Italian is just coming back from illness. Other impressive moves came from Ekaterina Glazyrina 20th-9th, Franziska Preuss 22nd-9th, Susan Dunklee 41st-19th and Elise Ringen 55th-23rd!

Östersund proved to be a bit of a roller coaster ride throughout the week with people performing well one day and terribly the next but that’s the first races of the season for you! We are now off to Hochfilzen where there is currently no snow but luckily in Austria you can just go up a mountain and get some! Kaisa and Emil have come out best from the weekend and will wear the yellow bibs but it’s still very early in the season. After all the ups and downs in Sweden the others will be hoping for a bit more consistency. It has been quite the week in Östersund and with all the drama on the range it has been full of Swede Emotions!

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Maddie Phaneuf: The Interview!

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In the first in a new series of interviews with young biathletes Biathlon23 talked to the USA’s Maddie Phaneuf about her experiences in the sport so far. Maddie is 19 and was born in Virginia and now lives in Lake Placid. She had a great Youth/Junior World Championships in Presque Isle and I am looking forward to seeing what she can achieve this season.

You can follow Maddie on Twitter: @MaddieBiathlete, find her on Facebook and I highly recommend reading her blog:
http://maddiebiathlon.blogspot.co.uk/

Biathlon is not that popular in America, cheerleading is! How did you escape the pom-poms to become a biathlete?

It’s funny because I actually started out dancing and doing ballet when I was younger, but then my family and I moved to my current hometown (in New York State) and they did not have a good dance program there. They did have a lot of snow and skiing though, so that’s when I learned how to ski…and eventually picked up biathlon.

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?

Currently, I am not doing full-time school, but instead I am just doing a few online college classes. So during my down time from training I work on my school. It seems to be working well, and I will be done with the classes by the time the race season begins. For my social life, most of my friends are within the biathlon community, so it is very easy to continue that social life during training and competitions. Although, I do have friends from high school that are not in biathlon, and it’s a bit harder to keep up with their lives. Usually if I am home for a while I try to hang out with them and catch up, otherwise I just see what they are up to by checking their Facebook. If I were not training, I would definitely have more of a social life, and sometimes I miss that. I usually cannot just meet up with a friend for the weekend, or stay out too late because of training, which can be not so fun.

Will you be competing in Raubichi in the World Youth/Junior Championships? What is the selection criteria for your country?

Yes, I will be competing in Raubichi! I am very excited to compete in my second ever World Youth/Junior Championships. It will be interesting to see how different the competition is compared to last season in the USA, and now this year as a Junior rather than a Youth. The selection criteria for my country (USA) is that we have a set of three races in December over a week. To make the team you have to be a certain percent back from the winner of each race, and they count the two best of three races. Sean Doherty and I have pre qualified for these races because of our performance at the last World Youth/Junior Championships, so we will not be competing at the selection races.

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

I receive some funding, but currently unsure on how much funding I will receive this season. I did get a good deal from Rossignol on my equipment, but I pay for my equipment myself with the help of my parents. With travel my parents help a lot, because I do not have a job because of training…so I don’t have an income. Also, for training, I live in Lake Placid, NY at the Olympic Training Center with the National Team, so our housing and food is all paid for…so training is basically free, which is very helpful.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a biathlete?

I think the best part about being a biathlete is that I get to travel around the world and meet people from different cultures while doing the thing I enjoy most! There really aren’t many things that make being a biathlete a bad thing. Maybe the worst thing about being a biathlete would be having to carry your large ski bag and rifle case while traveling in the airport…which can be tiring and take a long time.

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

If I could steal one characteristic from another biathlete, I would want to be able to look as beautiful as Gabriela Soukalova does when she’s competing. It’s impressive how she can look so pretty while competing and win! I don’t know how she does it…but it’s a skill I’d like to have. I’m already a natural blonde, so I’m part-way there!

What would you like to change about biathlon? (the rules, equipment, schedule etc).

I don’t think there is really anything I would choose to change about biathlon. Maybe the only thing would be for the relay, if a team does not have 4 people, they could use one of their teammates twice. I know this is an issue for the USA Women’s team this season, because they will only have three women competing on the first World Cup races. They all really want to compete in the relays this season, but they do not have enough women, so it would be cool if they could race Susan, Hannah, Annelies, Susan.

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

Steve Prefontaine, I have been inspired by him since I was younger. I was more into running before biathlon, and he was a phenomenal track star. I would watch the movie Prefontaine on repeat, and know his story as well as I know my story! To be as good as an athlete as he was and to have the passion for a sport like he did for running, would mean everything to me.

To learn more about Steve Prefontaine see his website: http://prefontainerun.com/index.php

What’s your typical day like?

Well, my typical day is as follows:

1)Wake up 7:00
2)Breakfast 7:30-8:30
3)Morning training 9:00
4)Shower
5)Lunch 12:00-13:00
6)Recovery/Free 13:00-15:30
7)Afternoon training 15:30
8)Shower
9)Dinner 18:00-19:00
10)Dry fire
11)Bed 21:30

You are on a team with Susan Dunklee, Hannah Dreissigacker and Annelies Cook. Do they help you with tips and advice or are they super competitive and don’t want you to steal their place in the team?! 😉

It has been a great experience training with Susan, Annelies, and Hannah after watching them compete on the World Cup and looking up to them the past few years. They have been extremely helpful! If I ever need help with anything or if I ever have a question they are always there for me. I don’t think they are too worried about me stealing their place on the team, because they are all so much older than I am. I am still only 19 and in my developing years, they are each in their late 20’s early 30’s and have been in this sport longer than me! I also don’t see them as the type of people that are super competitive when it comes to teammates. They are competitive when they need to be, during training and competitions, but when you need help or are just hanging out as a team, they are all so friendly and caring. It has been a fun experience, and I’m excited to see how they do this season!

Does your rifle have a name?

It currently does not, but I’ll take suggestions!! I never thought about naming my rifle before…do people actually do that?

Describe yourself in three words.

I am…happy, outgoing, determined.

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Franziska Hildebrand, GER
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): Relay
Favourite/best race of your career so far? 4th place (shooting clean!) in Youth Women Sprint at Youth/Junior World Championships 2014 in Presque Isle, Maine USA

Favourite food: Chocolate
Favourite singer/band: Vance Joy
Favourite film: Into The Wild
Favourite sports team: USA Women’s Soccer
Favourite TV show: The Vampire Diaries (guilty pleasure)

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Gunning for Glory Part 2: Men

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Well the start of the season is not far away now so it’s time to look at the main contenders for the Overall title. There is of course one outstanding candidate – Martin Fourcade. He is aiming to win the title for the fourth year in a row and continue to stamp his dominance on male biathlon. Normally I would say that no one can beat him but this time round there may just be a few chinks in his armour that might give someone else the opportunity to win the Total Score.

Two reasons leap out as to why Martin may find his title more difficult than normal to defend. The first is his bout of mononucleosis or glandular fever as it’s more commonly known. He had to scale back his training in the summer and this is bound to affect his fitness. It will probably catch up to him around mid-season as I expect him to make his usual good start in Oestersund. He will also find it hard going as he is considering competing in Falun in the cross country World Championships and so he might do some races on the FIS calendar to prepare for this. So an extra work load along with his summer illness just opens a crack in the door that might be big enough for one of the other guys to sneak through and take victory.

Ah a chance then for Emil Svendsen to regain the title he won for the only time in 2009/10 and put an end to his 4 second places in a row! Well maybe but reports out of Norway suggest that Svendsen is struggling for motivation after last year’s Olympics and is considering his retirement before the next Games in 2018. He definitely has the talent and experience to win but does he have the mental fortitude and motivation to do it. Well only he can answer that.

I am really looking forward to seeing what young Johannes Bø has got to offer this season. He was remarkable last year and a real breath of fresh air on the World Cup and with his confidence and fast shooting he is great to watch. He finished third last time, a long way behind Fourcade but only 5 points behind Svendsen who was second. He got five wins in the previous season and I can see him exceeding that this year and it will put him in a great position to win. I hope his big brother Tarjei can also return to his old form which saw him win the Overall title in 2010/11. There is nothing like a bit of “friendly” inter-family competition!!!

Three top Norwegians there for Fourcade to contend with but he better watch his back for the Austrians as well. Fourth and fifth in the Total Score last year were Dominik Landertinger and Simon Eder. Both of them are good enough to win and have a lot of experience. If either of them can put together a really consistent season they will be in with a chance. They have to start taking podiums from the beginning though to be able to challenge for the top spot. Austria’s neighbours also boast a couple of potential winners. Germany had Arnd Peiffer and Simon Schempp in the Top 10 last season and it’s about time we had another German winner of the big Crystal Globe. Peiffer did well to come back from an abysmal season two years ago and Schempp has finally got the victories his talent had promised.

Russia have Anton Shipulin to look to for victory. Like the others he can be great on his day but has been lacking the consistency to really push for overall glory. There are also many other top male biathletes who can take points off the top guys and make their chances of winning really difficult. Jakov Fak, Lukas Hofer, Ondrej Moravec, Jean-Guillaume Beatrix, Tim Burke and Freddie Lindstrom are all capable of winning races and taking podiums and will hopefully get more involved in the Total Score, if not right at the top then at least to shake up the TOP 5.

Watch out this year for Nathan Smith, Andrejs Rastorgujevs and Simon Desthieux to start mixing with the top men for podiums and victories. Have I forgotten anyone? Oh yes there is a guy called Ole Einar Bjørndalen that you may have heard of. I hear he is quite good at biathlon! Keep an eye out for him and his fancy new ski poles! He was meant to retire last season along with Bjorn Ferry, Carl Johan Bergman and Cristoph Sumann but changed his mind after Sochi. Quite right too! There are still wins left in the old legs yet!

It will be an intriguing season for the men to see if any of them can beat Fourcade to the title although possibly not as unpredictable and exciting as the women’s side. However I look forward to seeing how Martin copes with the aftermath of his illness and his possible extra commitments in cross county. We will just have to watch and see what happens with so many great men Gunning for Glory!!!

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Gunning for Glory Part 1: Women

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Intrigue, uncertainty, unpredictability ,mystery and suspense! No it’s not the latest thriller at the cinema- it’s the Women’s World Cup!!! This season is going to be one of the best yet. Who is going to finish with the Overall Title 2014/15? Your guess is as good as mine. Anybody could win it but there are some with a better chance than others.

There have been some big changes on the Women’s Tour this year which is why it is so exciting. Tora Berger, Andrea Henkel, Ann Kristin Flatland and Marie-Laure Brunet have retired, Selina Gasparin is pregnant and will miss the season, Marie-Dorin Habert has a new daughter and we are not sure when she will return. Olga Vilukhina has also decided to sit out the season to heal from some injuries. That means four of the Top 11 finishers in the Overall will not be on the start line this season. So we better take a look at the other eight!

Last year’s winner by 4 points was Kaisa Makarainen. An amazing end of season run saw her just pip Tora Berger and totally ruin her retirement! 😉 Can she defend her title this year? Well of course she is capable and she has more experience than her competitors but she also has a home World Championships in Kontiolahti to prepare for. It is likely to be her final year in the sport and the World Championships might mean her main focus is not on the World Cup.

In third place last season was Darya Domracheva. Her stunning performances in Sochi must make her one of the favourites to take the title this year. However I am not so sure. She can be fantastic over a race weekend but can she sustain that level over a whole season? In the last 3 years she has finished second twice, and third once in the Total Score but seems to lack just that little something to push her up to first. She seems to have sorted out her shooting issues but with all the attention she has received after her Olympic glory and all the extra engagements outside of biathlon it has brought her, will she be able to keep her focus all the way to Khanty?

This is an issue that will also affect Gabriela Soukalova who was fourth last year. She has become very popular over the last couple of seasons and that can bring it’s own pressure. The other biathletes will be watching out for her and like Domracheva she will have to try and maintain a good level throughout the season.

Sixth last time around was Anastasiya Kuzmina. She had a pretty average season but came good for the Olympics and brilliantly defended her Sprint gold. Actually sixth is her best ever position in the Total Score but her lack of consistency means to win it would be quite unlikely. Just behind her in seventh was Norway’s new sensation Tiril Echoff. Talk about pressure, taking on Berger’s mantle and the intense scrutiny of the Norwegian press will be a lot to handle for this young lady. They breed them tough in Norway though and she could be up in the Top 3 by the end of March.

In 8th and 9th places were Valj Semerenko and Veronika Vitkova. They had great seasons both finishing with their highest ever placings on the Total Score. They will be dangerous again this time round but may lack the number of podiums required to get to the very top. Outside the Top 11 are more dangers lurking to thwart the favourites. The experience of Teja Gregorin, Vita Semerenko and Olga Zaitseva could prove vital over the season. They may not win overall but they are capable of taking valuable points off the favourites by knocking them off the podium.

Then there is the raft of young talent coming on or back to the scene. Dorothea Wierer had a great season last time out and her double victory in Sjusjoen suggests she will be challenging for more podiums this time around. The young Germans like Dahlmeier, Hildebrand and Preuss will also be in the mix. Miriam Goessner is back from injury and if she has learned to shoot better in her absence she will be a real contender to win a lot of races. Elsewhere Nadezhda Skardino, Juliya Dzhyma and Susan Dunklee were really impressive last time and I am sure will take more points and get better results this season.

So basically I am saying that I have absolutely no idea who is going to win this year’s big Crystal Globe! That is why it is going to be such a great season to watch the women. The favourites have to be Makarainen, Domracheva and Soukalova but only one of these has won it before. I am really looking forward to this season to see whether one of these ladies can win it or if someone will take us by surprise and come from nowhere to claim victory. Anything could happen! I advise you to put all bets on each way because it’s going to be one hell of a season with all these outstanding women Gunning for Glory!!!

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