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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