Italy’s Next Generation: Michela, Irene and Samuela
The Italian team came to the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships in Osrblie as a question mark; young talent with good training brought together by an experienced staff of coaches, but could they battle with the powerhouse teams?. On February 28, as the Championships closed, the answer was in. They left Osrblie with a record eight medals (three Gold, two Silver and three Bronze), not far behind Russia’s 11 and Norway’s 8.
Breakthrough for Three Friends
It was a breakthrough performance; the next generation of the Italian women’s team had arrived. Irene Lardschneider (Youth Sprint/Pursuit Gold, Relay Bronze), Michela Carrara (Junior Sprint Gold, Pursuit Silver), and Samuela Comola (Youth Sprint/Pursuit/relay Bronze) accounted for seven of those medals, with Martine Vigna (Youth Relay Bronze) and Cedric Christille (Youth Pursuit Silver) getting in on the fun. Coach Michela Ponza commented, “We knew they could do some good races before we came here, but we never expected so many medals. The girls did everything we asked all summer, with no questions...The nice thing about this group is that they are more than just teammates; they are great friends.” Lardschneider confirmed this. “The three of us get along together very well, during the summer training, we have great fun together. It made all of the hard work easier when we were doing it together.” This friendship was obvious as the three bright smiling young ladies, Lardschneider, Carrara and Comola, all holding their medals, laughed their way through an interview about their newfound success.
Pink and White Skis
All three began their sports careers casually: Lardschneider at age four was skiing with her mom on yellow and red skis, while Carrara has seen a lot of photos of herself at age three “on my pink and white skis.” By the time they were around 12, biathlon called at their local ski club. None of them had been a fan or watched biathlon on television before they started the sport. Carrara the clean-shooting Junior Sprint Gold medalist said, “I started biathlon with a race at my local club. In my first race, I missed seven out of ten. I really was not very good at shooting then, but I am better now!”
Gold, 1:06 Ahead of Field
In Osrblie, the Youth Women’s Sprint opened the medal floodgates, but the earlier Youth Women’s Individual hinted at what was to come. The fastest ski time came from 5th place Lardschneider while Comola hit 19-of-20 shots. In the sprint, the eventual Gold medalist took the lead before the prone stage that she cleaned on a windy day. Then, despite a single standing penalty, she stretched her lead to a dominating 1:06 over the field by the finish. Comola shot clean in the tough conditions to take a Bronze medal. “Lardschneider commented, “I dreamed of winning medals and hoped for it. We had trained hard for this, but I did not expect it…This was my first Championships; winning a medal was amazing.”
Surprise Gold for Focused Carrara
After this start, Carrara’s Junior Sprint title came as a surprise. Until Osrblie, her Junior Cup sprint results for the season were 13th, 41st and 32nd. However, with the help of light winds, she shot clean and once the last target fell, no one in the field would challenge. “This was a very big surprise to me…“I never expected to win a Gold medal. I missed six in the individual, but today my shape is very good and I shot well.” Ponza added, “In the individual, she was not very focused and reacted to the wind flags in the wrong way. The sprint was different; the focus was very good.”
The two sprint Gold medalists were then in that scary position of leading the pursuit, while everyone tried to catch them. Lardschneider admitted that was a tough spot for her. “I never led an international race like this before.” Still, even with four penalties in the standing stages, she went wire-to-wire, never really challenged. Once again, her roommate Comola picked up the Bronze medal. Looking back a few hours after her win, she said, “I never expected to win two Gold medals and be on the podium with my roommate for a second time; now I am finally realizing what I did.”
Taking the junior pursuit would be a bigger challenge for Carrara; her 15 second margin at the start left little room for error, like the penalties in the first three stages. However, she cleaned the last standing. A sprint finish gave her the Silver medal. “I actually enjoyed the pursuit; the pressure was off since I had my Gold medal. I moved from fifth with my clean last stage…Two medals were more than I ever expected.”
One More Medal
The Youth women’s relay produced one final medal, Bronze for Lardschneider, Comola and teammate Vigna. The team had achieved a milestone: most medals ever at the IBU YJWCH for their country while equaling the three Gold medals of Lukas Hofer and Dorothea Wierer in 2009 and Wierer in 2011.
The athletes know the key to their success, besides talent is the coaches. According to Lardschneider, who trains full-time under Ponza commented, “They are a good team and they understand us. These medals showed that all of the hard work paid off…After the first medals, they were really happy, but told us to remain focused on our work in the other races.” Carrara added, “Alex (Inderst) prepares us well and looks after us. He can tell when we are tired and need to rest. Michela pays attention to every detail at the shooting range. We can thank her for our improvements…They told me after my medal that it was the big payoff.”
Although this group had great success, they still have some time before the next big challenge, senior competition. All three will be in the junior category although Carrara, hopes “to compete in some IBU Cups to get experience, but the big dream is the World Cup.” Lardschneider and Comola, now in their last year of high school have a few more years, but the dreams remain big. The sprint/ pursuit winner said, “Getting to the World Cup and Olympics, to be one of the strongest biathletes is the goal. But now I need to continue to make small steps and get better and better.”
Dorothea Wierer and Co. need to keep an eye on this trio; they are coming on fast!