The veteran Eder, in his 21st season of international biathlon competitions, had another standout year on the shooting range leading him to six top 10 results. After hitting 88% of his shots in a “down” 2021/22 season, he rebounded to 90% in 2022/23. Eder’s impressive shooting included 95% in prone, with not a single prone miss from the start of the season until using two spare rounds in the Pokljuka single mixed relay. In the Oslo Holmenkollen mass start, the Austrian reached one of his goals for the season: shooting clean for the 60th time in his career. From Antholz to the end of the season, Eder missed just 7 of 170 shots in individual competitions. After struggling with standing before Christmas, he admitted two keys to successful shooting returned. “Muscle memory took the control again; self-confidence came back and it felt much easier than in December.”
Shooting clean four times in that span, Eder explained the importance and pressure of the last shot. “It is the most important shot because you are really close to your goal of shooting clean. Watching other strong athletes manage the last shot(s) totally unexcited and very calm helps and pushes me a lot! Hanna Oeberg, Lisa Vittozzi, Doro Wierer, Sebastian Stalder or Niklas Hartweg work really well under pressure.”
Austrian Head Coach Vegard Bitnes takes little credit for Eder’s success but feels the veteran’s influence on the team was and remains huge. “Last spring, I told him you are 39; what you have done the last 10-15 years has worked, so I’m not sure what and how much we are going to change. The only thing I want and need you to do, is to join the team in training. I need you to “hang around” the younger ones, because you’re still the hero to so many of them and they can learn so much from you. He did and it turned out the young guys pushed Simon pretty hard in training every day.”
Yet Eder was not the only shooting star on the Austrian men’s team. David Komatz, consistent on the range for years, matched his older teammate, also hitting 90% of his shots. Komatz’s second clean-shooting day last season netted a career-best 11th place in the Nove Mesto sprint. Yet that was not the 31-year-old’s only highlight of the season. After taking an IBU WCH Mixed Relay Silver medal at Pokljuka in 2021, he teamed up with Lisa Theresa Hauser for a Single Mixed Relay Silver medal in Oberhof.
According to Bitnes, successful shooting is a complex but, “a never-ending process. Confidence is something you build up! Shooting is principle a pretty easy. It’s up to the athlete, not to make it difficult… In Hochfilzen we have our test center that includes shooting. We have a lot of stats from all Austrian biathletes, so we have a good base when it comes to biathlon mechanics which is helpful to the upcoming athletes as well. At the end of the day, every athlete needs to take responsibility for their own motivation on the shooting range.” Regarding the need for confidence, “I think JT Boe showed us a “next level” on when he shot a standing clip in 15-16 seconds in Oberhof. He wouldn’t do that, without having out-of-this-world confidence.”
Hauser received most of the accolades for the Austrian women, winning the Kontiolahti sprint and the Annecy Le Grand Bornand mass start with another consistent season, grading out at 85% on the range. However, Dunja Zdouc for the second consecutive season was the team’s shooting star at 92% with seven clean-shooting days, jumping 10 percentage points from the 2019/20 season to 2022/23. Teammate Tamara Steiner with limited starts in her first season in the World Cup also reached 92% and rising star Anna Gandler came in at an equally excellent 86%.
Zdouc bubbled about that 92% number. “I have to admit that I'm really proud to reach that goal; it really was my aim to go above 90%. Of course, it was a lot of work…But in the end you also need to be a little bit the lucky one!” She found it hard to find what was the key compared to a few years back. Maybe it‘s good for the self-confidence when you know you can do it, because you were there before. This year I knew that I really need this good shooting performance, because I was injured during the whole preparation time from the end of May until the end of November, so there was no physical improvement…Luckily biathlon is shooting and running, so you still can have a good result with clean shooting.”
“Don’t think; just shoot”
As for those seven perfect days, “It is hard to describe what it is like when you are down to that last shot. Some days you don‘t think and just shoot. Those are normally the good ones, but on other days, hitting it is really hard work.” Thinking for a moment, she concluded with a chuckle, “Maybe the best way for good shooting is not to overthink and just let it happen, but that is easier said than done!”
The Austrians were among the best on the range last season, motivated, self-confident while putting in a lot of work. Bitnes also credited the previous coaches who laid the base, his assistant Ludwig Gredler and one small change in philosophy. “I took out the training sessions from before that I saw as senseless, shooting just to shoot kind of things. All training should have a goal and purpose. As James Clear once said, “One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.”
Then there is Eder’s veteran perspective that maybe sums it all up. “David, Dunja and Tamara are very talented and hard workers! We work together in trainings and help each other to improve. It is the best team spirit since I‘m in the World Cup and a reason why I‘m still motivated.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Bjorn Reichert, Per Danielsson