Ruhpolding Rain…Time to Train
“Biathletes are made in the summer.” However summer does not always mean sunshine and blue skies, especially at this time of the year when hints of fall and even winter peek around the corner. Every day and every training session counts as “money in the bank” on the #roadtopyeongchang. Less-than-perfect conditions are just a speed bump for world class biathletes…and their coaches.
Business as Usual Except for Rain, Raincoats, and Umbrellas
Saturday morning in Ruhpolding’s Chiemgau Arena; rain is falling, the mountains are shrouded by puffy gray clouds and the shooting range results board flashes a chilly 10 degrees Celsius. Yet, other than none of the usual fans in the tribunes, it looks like any other day. The rifle racks are full, while nearly 30 biathletes cruise the tracks on their rollerskis, warming up. There is work to be done, so it is business as usual, almost. US women’s coach Jonne Kähkönen commented, “This is pretty bad, but yesterday it was raining much harder for the whole three hours we were out here.” On this wet morning which obviously could have been even wetter, there are no shorts, short-sleeves and coaches seeking shelter from the morning sun under the white patio umbrellas that dot the shooting range. The athletes are slightly protected by rain jackets and pants. The coaches in Gore-Tex rain parkas and pants are huddled under the umbrellas trying to keep their spotting scopes, clipboards, watches and video cameras dry.
No One Asks (about the Weather)
Regarding any discussion about the weather with the athletes before training, Kähkönen added with a laugh, “We do not even want to go there. No one asks and we don’t say anything!” On a more serious note, he continued, “Everyone knows they have work to do; they are focused. This is a very professional group. We try to complete the training as well as possible. It may not be perfect, but everyone does their best.”
US Team: Intensity
With that in mind, it was the typical three-ring circus on the shooting range. The US men, with veterans Tim Burke, Sean Doherty and Leif Nordgren were on one end of the range under the watchful eye of Coach Jonas Johansson, doing some “intensity, eight times six minutes with shooting,” according to Burke.
A couple of lanes down, some of the US women were flowing a similar pattern: start, ski the loop, grab the rifle at the range entrance, shoot and slowly ski back to the rifle rack, drop the rifle and start the next interval.
International Time Trial; Selina, Kaisa, Susan and Co
The Swiss women and a few guests had the middle of the range to themselves, for a time trial. It looked like a mid-winter World cup tune-up with the Swiss ladies, Kaisa Mäkäräinen, IBU WCH Silver medalist Susan Dunklee, Canada’s Megan Tandy all donning Ruhpolding race bibs for a 7.5k sprint. Swiss Coach Armin Auchentaller was the official starter, timer, chief of scoring, and shot spotter, while his assistant videoed each shooting bout for later analysis. It was a fast and furious affair, with water spray flying off the rollerski wheels and everyone getting even wetter, shooting prone on the soaked mats. Auchentaller, looking at the results was happy and smiling after everyone had finished. “It was really good; Kaisa was first, Selina (Gasparin) second and Irene Cadurisch was third; everyone was pretty close. Shooting was all either 0-0 or 0-1; of course it is Ruhpolding; the easiest place to shoot, so I expected that, even with the rain.”
The Swiss coach explained his philosophy for this wet, cold day. “The girls warmed up, raced, will do a cool-down and get out of the weather. We now have the afternoon and tomorrow off before going to Bodenmais to get ready for the German Champs next week; that will be a real test to see where we are.”
Almost lost among the big teams on the shooting range was the solitary Amanda Lightfoot of Great Britain, in a full rain gear, rollerskiing classic style; just her on the tracks and her boyfriend, as wet as she was, recording her loops and shots. In almost metronomic fashion, she continued loop after loop, as the others buzzed past her’ stopping only to shoot after each tour of the roller tracks, take the occasional drink and smile as she wrung out her absolutely soaked ski gloves late in the session. Biathletes are made in the summer, even if it is raining.
Coaching and Teaching
While the Swiss women were done in dry clothes and heading back to their hotel, the Swiss men at the far end of the range continuing to labor with another 1.5 hours of rollerskiing and shooting. Coach Jörn Wollschläger was soaking wet despite the heavy raincoat and umbrella. He was consistently up on the shooting mats, closely watching each athlete’s shooting, commenting, correcting and teaching just as if it was a sunny day. Those small lessons on this rainy day might be the difference in a World Cup or at Pyeongchang for one of his athletes.
Extra Rest; Staying Healthy Important
By around 11:30, the last shots were fired and the heavily soaked shooting mats, now weighing twice their normal weight were slowly carried, actually dragged back to the storage area. Another workout completed, in hard conditions. Auchentaller summed up his thoughts (and probably those of his colleagues). “We wanted to execute out our training plan efficiently today and get out of the rain. You do not want anyone to get sick at this stage of the year. So we are maybe a little extra cautious and will take a little more rest or days off than usual. Doing the work well is very important but we want to stay healthy; that is one of the keys to success in the competitions.”