Stina Nilsson: From Cross-country to Biathlon to Ski Classics

Four years after her surprising move from cross-country to biathlon, five-time Olympic cross-country medalist Stina Nilsson reversed courses, putting away her rifle, joining Team Ragde Charge, competing in the cross-country Ski Classics Tour.

Although no one thought otherwise, Nilsson may have subtly hinted about this change when she won the 42 km Idre-Särnaloppet on Easter Weekend 2024.

Following Denise, Anna Carin and Magdalena

The 30-year-olds filled-with-promise biathlon career never reached the heights of others who moved from cross-country like Denise Herrmann-Wick, Anna Carin Zidek (Olofsson) and the six-time World Cup Total Score titleist Magdalena Forsberg. In 36 World Cup starts, Nilsson made the top 10 just twice; her only career-podium on the top circuit was a single-penalty third place in the 2022 Kontiolahti Sprint. This past season, she finished third in IBU Cup competitions on three occasions.

Guidance from Chabloz

Nilsson’s lack of success despite her blazing, powerful ski speed simply came down to the shooting range. Swedish shooting coach Jean-Marc Chabloz took Nilsson under his wing from the outset, working diligently with her. Always consulting Chabloz at training, analyzing and looking for the answers, Nilsson remarked, “It is really good to have someone who can see the whole picture. He knows that I can be on this level one day, and another the next.”

“I expected it to be really hard”

Nilsson elaborated on her biathlon experience 18 months after starting the sport, “I did expect it to be really hard and…it is. That is kind of why I did it. I did not want everything served on a plate…It’s the exact same feeling (as when I started cross-country). It is like starting all over again, being new at something, learning something new every day and having new people to look up to.”

Still, she struggled to find the skiing/shooting balance, although Chabloz admitted to Nordic Magazine that he thought his charge was close. “I told her she wasn't far from succeeding in biathlon. She lacked the consistency in skiing to be more serene in shooting… Speaking to her in Oslo, she told me it was starting to get hard for her; I understood… She found it increasingly difficult to put criticism aside when she hadn't dealt with that before.”

Lukas and his staff felt the same frustration as Nilsson in the past couple of seasons. “The thing was, that after she made big steps in the beginning; a podium in her second season was great development. Then everyone was expecting directly the next step.”

Combining “pushing on the track; focus on the range”

Continuing, he added, “We saw great results in many trainings. The strong girl you saw in training was not the girl you saw in races. She was not free. She won test races. I have Excel files with victories in sprints, test races, zero-zero with the fastest ski times. But we did not see that many times in the winter… At times we thought she had problems pushing hard on the track and focus on the shooting range; sometimes it is just hard to do… We were a little bit stuck when she did not make it. Stina is very famous in Sweden; the pressure was high with the media watching her every move. It became not much fun anymore, trying hard all the time and not getting the results.”

No simple answer

It is hard to quantify in one simple answer why Stina Nilsson never made it to the top step in biathlon according to Lukas. “It is really hard to say why she was not as successful as we hoped; if it was the pressure, mindset or the combination of skiing and shooting.”

“I would do it again”

Yet the Swedish Coach relishes the challenge just as Nilsson relishes new opportunities in the Cross-country Classics, like winning the legendary Vasaloppet. “I would do it again because I love working with new, different athletes. When you work with Olympic medalists, you know they are special. They have something extra. It is not always easy to work with them but it is fun and you have to have fun.”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Harald Deubert, Jerry Kokesh, Svensk Skidskytte

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