Herrmann-Wick’s Olympic 15 km Individual Gold medal last February reigns as the shining moment in her short biathlon career, which includes 38 combined individual and relay/mixed relay World Cup podiums. The 2019 IBU Pursuit World Champion would like nothing better than add another title and a few other assorted medals in Oberhof. This season is trending positive, only outside the top seven on three occasions in fifteen individual and relay starts, including a dominating sprint win at Hochfilzen and a final exclamation mark with the pursuit victory in Antholz.
With Oberhof growing closer with each tick of the clock, she does not feel a sense of urgency but an inner calm. Things are perking along like Herrmann-Wick hoped they would. Forgoing the Ruhpolding Mass start was a decision not taken lightly but with the big picture in mind. “With a home World Championships in three weeks, you have to make a priority list. Then the Mass start in Ruhpolding was not a priority. It has a lot to do with what is now, and in three weeks … a hard decision. The next three weeks are important: to stay healthy and have a good energy level. You cannot train that much. It is just small steps now to the top shape. (Oberhof) is closer but also a bit away.”
The 34-year-old is counting on what she learned in Beijing to bring her to the podium in Oberhof. A mindset change last year brought a sense of calm to Herrmann-Wick. “I learned a lot in the last year. (Before Beijing), I found good shape but also a good mood for the mind. My main goal was to come in a relaxed mode before the competitions, focus on what I can do at that moment, not put a lot of pressure on myself and enjoy the biathlon.” That attitude carried over this year. “It has been working very well. I will try to hold this model. We will see what will happen in Oberhof, as the wind and weather there can be moody. But, after the Covid 19 period, I learned to be a bit more flexible and relaxed in those situations.”
It is not just the wind and unpredictable weather in Oberhof that can bring even the most decorated champions to their knees. Over the years, the notorious tracks have destroyed many dreams of victory with a catastrophic fall or a total loss of power in the energy-sapping Birxsteig. Herrmann-Wick’s experience and well-known track speed and skills buoy her confidence. “I like the tracks there. It is a good venue for the World Champs; the best biathlete will win. You must be lucky, but you must be prepared for these tracks. Besides being in good shape, you need to be clever about how fast you go on each part of the track.”
Ski technique is crucial, but tactics are part of her approach to the tracks. “You better be relaxed in the downhills, rest for a while, and generate new energy for the next uphill… Then there is also the headwind as you enter the stadium. You have to think about tactics there. The Birxsteig uphill is taxingly long, but I think the German spectators will push us up there.”
Herrmann-Wick and her teammates are eagerly anticipating Oberhof, especially the fan support. “No one (on our team) has been a part of a home World Champs. It is an honour to race in the home WCH. The whole team is looking forward to it. After the weekend in Ruhpolding, you can see how good the German fans are. It (the crowds) will be positive for us.” There is also a personal side to the Olympic Champion. “It is not far from my hometown; I am looking forward to seeing friends along the tracks. For me, (Oberhof means) to be in top shape, hit many targets, enjoy the atmosphere and passion for biathlon in Germany.”
When it comes down to the basics, winning medals is really what the WCH and Olympic Winter Games are all about. The German women’s relay won Olympic Bronze last year. This year they have been strong and very successful, with Sophia Schneider and Anna Weidel stepping in for Franziska Preuss and Vanessa Hinz, both out occasionally with illness and injuries. Herrmann-Wick likes the women’s relay team’s medal chances. “It is cool to see how good the team is doing and how motivating it is to have the home WCH on your doorstep…It is cool to have a lot of girls who can race the relay, be a part of a strong team that can fight for medals.”
Asked about which individual competition she would like to win at Oberhof, Herrmann-Wick thought for a moment, smiled and replied, “The sprint would be cool. I have been fourth and fifth. It would be a big goal coming from cross-country, but the most important thing is to be healthy. The shape is really good, but you have to have fun and hit the targets.”
“You have to be a biathlete”
Summing up her journey from Olympic medal-winning cross-country skier to Olympic Champion in biathlon to medal favorite in a home IBU World Championships, Herrmann-Wick added, “In the beginning it was good to know I could ski fast, but the shooting range was an unknown journey. A lot happened; there were a lot of mistakes. You have to shoot fast and clean and run as fast as you can. You have to be a biathlete and not a cross-country skier.”
Come February 8, biathlete Denise Herrmann-Wick will be front and centre at the Lotto Thüringen Arena am Rennsteig, ready to battle for medals.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Igor Stančik/Archive