A fresh start for the Italian women

The months following an Olympic season could be described as a quiet storm: while the athletes finally enjoy a deserved rest, behind the scenes, the teams start to plan for a future that often covers the full new Olympic cycle. For the Italians, this was a rather key decision to take as in less than four years, the five rings will be raised at the Antholz stadium. The hopes for the home team are as high as ever, focussing on Lisa Vittozzi, who already has Olympic and World Championship medals to her name, and a group of talented youngsters. Their lead was given to a Finn: Jonne Kahkonen was hired as Women Head Coach, and we caught up with him and Vittozzi, while the team was busy during their third camp of the summer. Amidst a little bit of a cultural adaptation, new training input and singing evenings, the team is looking ahead with confidence to the future.

First impressions

I had never seen most of the athletes before, I only knew their names,” Kahkonen admitted while talking about his first time meeting the women of his team: “I had no idea what kind of athletes they were: their strengths or weaknesses. But then, once we started the training and already at the first camp in Viareggio, I was positively surprised by the high level that they had. The base was to get started, both for the physical and for the shooting parts. Though for sure, we have still a lot of work ahead of us”.

While Dorothea Wierer is training with the men, Lisa Vittozzi is the de-facto veteran on the team.

I feel really well in this team and the work is of high quality,” she explained: “Jonne is proving to be a positive addition, bringing fresh ideas, while being a demanding coach. At the same time, he is very patient, quiet and always caring. I had also never worked with Edoardo (Mazzaro) before and I found a competent person, who understands my needs and knows how to help”.

A young and motivated team

This mix of youngsters and an experienced athlete is highly beneficial in the eyes of Kahkonen.

The level is good. And I think most of the athletes are so close to one another that it generates a good push inside the team. It's really a big benefit for us to have so many women in the same team training together and obviously Lisa has the level and working attitude to be an example and to lead the group. This is a big thing for the younger athletes”.

I am still young”, Vittozzi smirked, who despite the 2 Olympics and a second place in the overall rankings is only 27 years old: “but if I can help my teammates grow just by being an example and someone to chase during trainings, I am very happy about this!

A new Olympic Cycle

I have not worked with a team who would have the home Olympics coming up,” the Finn admits with a smile that reveals the importance and the excitement of this adventure: “so that's definitely something new. And at the same time, I would like to approach it so that it's just another championships, because the work in the end, it should be the same. It doesn't matter where the Olympics are”.

Obviously, I am aware that for a lot of the athletes, home Olympics are absolutely the main goal. And the steps before that are just steps to get there. And that's sort of my approach as well. We must be realistic about where we are, where the level is now, especially for the younger athletes to do the right work and take the right steps to achieve their goal”.

The last four years saw some of the best and some of the toughest moments of Vittozzi’s career and she is looking forward to a new rise in the coming seasons.

I feel like the cycle that has just ended wasn’t exactly positive for me, but it was definitely a learning experience,” she told us: “I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve grown as a person and not just as an athlete. I start this new journey towards Anterselva 2026 with more experience and awareness”.

Finding a new, old, Lisa

It is no secret that one of the goals of the new team is to help Vittozzi finding the mental and physical balance that helped her become runner-up in the World Cup Total Score just three winters ago. The Italian herself, more than anyone else, is willing to put in the hard work to return to that form.

Last year I worked a lot on the mental side, whereas this year the plan is to go back to the basis of biathlon. I need to find the natural way of shooting, which I feel like I’ve lost on the way in the past seasons. Then I will be ready,” she admitted.

Kahkonen knows this is also a part of the job and therefore he approached the topic right away, at the very first training camp.

We talked a lot during the first couple of camps and sure, I had some ideas, but I guess the very first question for Lisa was 'are you open to hear what I have to say?'. For me it was important so that we could approach it like a clean start, so that we start from zero,” Kahkonen said, who then added: “Obviously her zero is not a zero, but she already has all this experience and all the training and years before. But to really clear the slate and not get stuck in the past, it was important to be open and see what we can do together. To get to know her as an athlete and as a person is paramount, especially for the shooting, where you must create the trust and have a good mutual understanding”.

Vittozzi appreciated this attitude and was really open about her struggles: “I learnt how to suffer, but not give up; to keep fighting for my goals also when everything seemed to go wrong. I had some very dark days, when I hated this sport, but in the end, my passion and determination helped me get up again and I know I will keep on doing it until I fulfil my goals”.

“Late” dinner and singing

Coming from the north, Kahkonen had to adapt slightly to the more Mediterranean routines, which he felt to be the biggest “cultural shock”, laughing about it.

I would not call it a shock, but I definitely recognise that each nation has a different approach to some aspects of the training routine. Maybe some slight changes with the philosophy and for sure, just how the normal the day rolls. A later dinner means athletes need a better snack in the afternoon, but a longer break also helps us coaches being more focused in the afternoon”.

What he brought with him as a ‘payback’ was the passion for music and he is helping the team discover some new talents too.

Lisa has a nice voice, we will see how that training goes!

Photos by Authamayou, Barbieri/NordicFocus

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