With no Total Score title or an Olympic gold medal to their name before 2021/2022, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Quentin Fillon Maillet set out to fill their collections with the missing trophies and change biathlon's history along the way. They won five medals each - two of those were golds in the individual competitions - at the Beijing 2022 Games and won the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score title. No other biathlete - man or woman - has ever achieved that in one season.
BW This was a season of great importance for you with the Total Score title and the Beijing 2022 Games at stake. With what kind of mindset did you approach summer training having these two big goals in mind?
MOR: This year, the focus was on the Olympics. That was my big goal. We knew that the conditions would be unlike any in the world cup, with the high altitude and strong winds and slow and heavy snow. The rest of the season was just a bonus. To fight for the small globes, let alone the Crystal one, was beyond my pre-season expectations.
QFM: Since I have started my biathlon career, I strived to be a better athlete with every new season. I was clear of my plans before the season: win the Total Score title and gold medals at the Olympics. And that is what I did. I think I have concretised years of hard work. I can touch my dreams now.
BW What lesson from the previous seasons, when you came close to winning the Total Score, have you applied this season?
MOR: I started last season strongly. Then I commenced spending too much time thinking about winning the Total Score. I wanted to be my best all the time at all costs. I forgot to be me. In 2021/2022, I focused on every competition. I tried to execute everything the best I could and see what the result would tell. You know the outcome is known at the end of the race and not before. It is a big difference between these two mindsets.
QFM: The last three seasons, I was very close to the very top of biathlon, but I was challenging two extraordinary gifted athletes in Martin Fourcade and JT Boe. I realised that I needed to have every detail sorted out, to combine fast skiing with accurate and clever shooting on any given day of the competitions. During the last summer, I found that place in my head where I feel I can trigger all the right things to compete for the win.
BW Who did you expect to be your most formidable opponent before the season started?
MOR: That is a big question! It would be easy for me to say, Elvira, as she has been fantastic. She surprised me with her level of consistency for such a young athlete. Before the winter, I expected Tiril Eckhoff to be super competitive and as convincing as she was at the Olympics and the end of the season. And I had to face me, of course.
QFM: Early in the season, it was Emilien. He was strong on the skis and shooting fast with great confidence. Johannes peaked in Beijing 2022. I felt that he and Eduard Latypov were super quick in China. As we entered the last Trimester, Sturla (Holm Laegreid), Vetle (Sjaastad Christiansen), and Sebastian (Samuelsson) found their rhythm and challenged for the podium every competition.
BW At which point this season did you start to sense that you are stronger than anybody, that nobody will match your level of excellence and consistency on a week-to-week basis?
MOR: Success in the Total Score is built week-by-week throughout the season. I felt at my best in Beijing 2022. I followed the plan on which my team decided in April 2021. It included me skipping the Antholz-Anterselva week and flying to China early. I had enough time to adapt to the conditions in Zhangjiakou. I knew I did everything to be at my best in Beijing. And that gave me a lot of confidence.
QFM: Difficult to say. When I arrived at the Olympic venue, there was the sun, not much wind, the snow felt right, and I felt good. I was really confident, and it showed in two gold and three silver medals. In the last Trimester, I was competing to win. Not be just on the podium, to win. Such was my confidence.
BW Which is the most beautiful moment for you this season?
MOR: There were many beautiful moments. Winning the mixed relay gold in Beijing meant the assertive opening of the competitions for the Norwegian team, plus I shared the joy with my teammates. Winning my sprint gold medal - the first individual Olympic gold medal - was a great satisfaction because I worked so hard for this goal over many years. I will remember that moment forever.
QFM: If I am to single out just one moment, then it is the pursuit win in Beijing 2022. The conditions were harsh, and I felt I was at my best. I called my parents and my girlfriend after that win. The emotions were high; it was such a good, unforgettable time!
BW From which past champions and their traits have you learned the most?
MOR: I have a good mental coach that helps me learn from every competition. As long as you are learning, biathlon is fun. When you feel there is nothing left for you to discover, you should stop.
QFM: At the beginning, I watched a lot of past French athletes like Vincent Defrasne, Raphael Poiree, also Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Sven Fischer. I have learned the most from Fourcade. We have spent a lot of time together as teammates of seven seasons. He was the ultimate professional. Martin was a formidable opponent but also a fine friend. Living in his shadow hasn't always been easy, but it made me a better biathlete. All the lights are on me now. It is a great feeling!
BW Olympics happen only every four years. If you compare them to the IBU World Championships, does the mental approach change, are the stakes higher in your mind?
MOR: Olympics are special. The pressure is intensely high. I had similar feelings at the IBU World Championships Antholz-Anterselva 2020. There is not much difference between winning gold at the IBU World Championships or Olympic Winter Games. The feelings are equally strong. And good.
QFM: The atmosphere is different. An Olympic venue is usually a new place for us, with new tracks, new shooting range, more pressure, more media attention. It is harder.
BW Is there a difference between shooting for a gold Olympic medal or a world cup win?
MOR: Actually not. You require equal focus. And you take the result at the end.
QFM: Hm. As an Olympic champion, you are a hero in your home country. So, the stakes are very high. But when you go for the Total Score win, you need to bring out your best performance more than 20 times in a season. You travel a lot. Staying healthy is a challenge. Perhaps there is a different intensity to the two, but almost equally hard.
BW What is the bigger drive for you: fear of losing or the joy of winning?
MOR: Joy of winning.
QFM: Joy of winning.
BW What has helped you manage your physical energy and calm/focused mind over four months this season?
MOR: Being in the moment.
QFM: Sleeping a lot, eating healthy, and focusing on the task in front of you. I also have an extra little secret, but that stays with me.
Photo: IBU/C. Manzoni