Sebastian Samuelsson: Sprinting twice to victory at home

Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson got a thrill last week that very few athletes ever experience, winning a BMW World Cup competition at home in Oestersund’s Swedish National Biathlon stadium…and in Samuelsson’s case, the thrill came not once but twice. Does his home hold the secret of his success? And who inspired him?

The 24-year-old, now in his sixth World Cup season came into 2021/22 with high hopes. Last season’s sixth place in the World Cup Total Score was a big personal best, sixth up from a previous best of twenty-second. After picking up his first victory in the season-opening Kontiolahti sprint, the IBU World Championships at Pokljuka netted him two Silver and two Bronze medals. A great summer of training at home with a couple of three-week stints at altitude in Italy and France provided a perfect set-up for the new season.

Disappointing opening: “We are so much better”

Then the season-opening men’s 20 km on his home tracks was a huge disappointment, partially anyway. Six penalties pushed him to 40th place, with redemption of sorts in the form of the second fastest ski time. As for the poor start, “We talked about this a lot. The conditions were not that hard; it was a day that you would have to shoot clean to be on the podium. Maybe it was having the spectators back after a year without them, some nerves, and being somewhat over motivated. I really wanted to have a good start. Often in a big team, two or three do not have a good race and you do not think about it because someone else does well. This one was special because no one had a good race. (Shooting Coach) Jean Marc Chabloz was more disappointed than I have ever seen him. I think all of the coaches were disappointed because we are so much better than what we showed. All of us thought that too.”

“A better sprint”

Continuing, “Let’s just say that it was nice to have a better sprint.” What a sprint and comeback it was for Samuelsson. He simply dominated, leading from start to finish, shooting clean and crossing the finish line, hands held high in 22:33.5 for his career-first sprint victory, at home, in a stadium filled with fans, friends and family. That day, he commented, “It was the perfect biathlon race and maybe the best race in my career so far.” A few days later, he called it, “a super special moment. It really was, especially since when I was on the podium in Oestersund before, there were no spectators. So that was special. I knew I had a really good race coming into the stadium and finish line. It was a great feeling to have the home crowd cheering for me.”

Hanna’s inspirational win

Samuelsson’s Sunday sprint win came on the heels of teammate Hanna Oeberg’s sprint win earlier that day. “It surely inspired me. She had a bad race on Saturday also. You know that things in biathlon can change quickly. Of course, that is easy to say, but when you get proof like with Hanna’s win, it is much easier to trust that. Then I just tried to think about all the sprints last season when I shot clean because I knew I was in good skiing shape. She really helped me a lot; then it was a perfect race.”

Wire-to-wire strategy

The Oestersund resident’s strategy in the wire-to-wire win was quite simple. “We discussed it before; you know the men’s sprint is so tight. The conditions were good, so I thought I had to go full gas from the start and hope I could manage the whole 10K. I think starting quite early put some pressure on the other guys. Johannes (Thingnes Boe) and Emilien (Jacquelin) knew they were behind me and saw I shot clean, putting on that pressure. Vetle (Sjaastad Christiansen) was 10-12 seconds behind me at the first split and finished about the same. That shows it was the winning strategy.”

Clean-shooting sprinter

Clean shooting was a big part of his win. It has almost become Samuelsson’s calling card in sprints; he closed all ten targets on eleven occasions in sprint competitions. “I have thought about that a lot. I feel I shoot better in sprints compared to other races. In the beginning (of my career), I tried to shoot clean, but now it is not special for me anymore. Now it is more like the normal thing to do. I expect to shoot clean. It is a big mental difference that makes it much easier. I know that every time I shoot clean, I might not be on the podium or win, but if I shoot clean, most of the time I will get on the podium. I have made it, luckily for me that I think I should shoot clean.”

Summer training; the treadmill

Thinking back to summer training, Samuelsson could not pinpoint anything that he sole focused on that kickstarted his early shape. “I am so young that I still feel I can improve in every area. I for sure want to shoot a little bit faster. I also want to improve my skiing. I would say everything in my summer training worked for me, but I still want to be better in everything.” One thing that improved his training this year is in his home, a personal rollerski treadmill. “I would say it is the best training tool. As far as physical training, I have much better training sessions on the treadmill than what I have outside. Of course, you need both because I cannot shoot in there for real, and you need curves and other things. But if you just want your heart to fight, it is the best thing you can do.”

Déjà vu win

After that initial sprint win, Samuelsson one-upped himself, last Thursday, he did a little déjà vu thing, taking the second sprint of the season. Although he had a single prone penalty, a spectacular last loop with again the fastest cumulative ski time brought him a second sprint win in front of the home crowd. I knew that one mistake is not optimal in a sprint, so I had to do a good standing shooting. I did it with I think some pressure; my final loop was something very special.”

Yellow Bib

Two home wins after a disastrous start put the low-key Swedish star in rare air, a place he never expected at one point, in the Yellow Bib. Incredulous with his good fortune, he said, “It is unbelievable; a dream come true. After my 48th place in the 20K, I thought I would not see the Yellow Bib this year. I am surprised but very happy.”

Photo: IBU/C. Manzoni

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