A big surprise came on March 17 in Oslo, when the French men’s coaching duo of Vincent Vittoz and Patrick Favre resigned. Vittoz, the skiing expert and Favre the shooting specialist took over the team in 2018, leading the team to a successful 2022 Olympic Winter Games results that included Quentin Fillon Maillet’s two Gold medals and Silver medals as well as IBU Men’s Relay World Championship Gold medals in 2020 and this past season.
At the time, Vittoz and Favre both admitted they had lost touch and the confidence of the athletes. Vittoz explained to RMC Sport. “We are at the end of a story. It is clear that we are no longer in tune with our athletes. We took stock and analyzed what went wrong. Athletes made some comments. We feel that they are not able to hear our speech. We were ready to continue, but there is a break in this discourse, and we cannot continue.”
On Thursday, French Biathlon Director Stephane Bouthiaux announced to SkiChrono / Le Dauphine that Simon Fourcade and Jean-Pierre Amat have been hired to helm the men’s team. Fourcade who retired at the end of the 2018/19 season has coached the French Juniors since that time.
Bouthiaux commented to Ski Chrono regarding the four-time IBU WCH medalist Fourcade. “He has good coaching experience and will bring his knowledge of the discipline and his freshness. The athletes have all made it known they want to work with him. Eric Perrot and Oscar Lombardot know him well and have trained successfully with him as juniors.” He then concluded, “I think it is the right time.”
In the same Ski Chrono article, the 39-year-old Fourcade added, regarding his move into the coaching ranks in 2019, “I wanted to return the favor to my sport. If I had not had biathlon in my life, I don't know what man I would have become. I was a bit of a rambunctious boy. I could have gone wrong, and biathlon helped build me up.”
1996 Olympic Shooting Gold medalist Amat returns to the French team where he previously coached at the World Cup, IBU Cup and Junior levels during his career. Amat most recently was the Chinese shooting coach until leaving that position after the 2021/22 season. Bouthiaux admitted, “the choice was obvious. He has great experience and has coached all the athletes at one time or another in their career.”
Along with the men’s coaching announcement, Bouthiaux revealed that Favre remains in the French coaching fold and will be working alongside the veteran women’s shooting coach Jean Paul Giachino.
The second surprise rider on the carousel was Germany for the second consecutive year. This time the big shake-up came on the men’s team. Last year, the women went in a new direction last year appointing Sverre Olsbu Roeiseland to coach the women. This year, long-time Men’s Head Coach Mark Kirchner retired after guiding the team for 13 years, a period that included the careers of Olympic and World Champions Arnd Peiffer, Simon Schempp, Erik Lesser and Benedikt Doll. Although there was no shortage of victories, podiums and medals in Kirchner’s stint as Head Coach, the 2023 home IBU World Championships were a low point for the German men with no medals for the first time in 46 years. Still, Kirchner left on his terms, commenting, “The work gave me a lot of joy until the end. But now the time has come for me to clear the way for new projects.” He will remain with the DSV, coaching, coordinating and overseeing youth development.
Velepec, “great honour and responsibility”
Uros Velepec who worked with Kirchner last season takes over as Head Men’s Coach. Velepec, previously a head coach in Slovenia and Ukraine admitted the new job came as bit of a surprise. “When (DSV Biathlon Sport Director) Felix Bitterling told me that Mark was not going to continue and did I want the job. Of course, I said, ‘yes.’ "
Continuing, he added, "Mark is a really great guy, lots of fun and so knowledgeable about biathlon; I really enjoyed working with him. Taking over the German team is a great honor with a lot of responsibility and expectations. Last season was really good for our team. No one in our top eight men had a bad year. Benni was always fighting for the podium and our relay team was very good except in that brutal Oberhof wind. Probably the biggest change this year is that we will add another younger guy to our training group, looking to the future as the core group of our team gets older.”
Former cross-country skier Jens Filbrich with a focus on ski technique and fitness training will be the assistant men’s coach. Velepec called Filbrich “a young, enthusiastic guy who is very eager to get to work with the team.”
Zots Leads Ukrainian Women’s Team
The Ukrainians shuffled their women’s staff and revamped their training group. a total staff shuffle on the women’s team. Mykola Zots is now the Women’s Head Coach with Ihor Yashchenko and Oleg Merkushyn working as the assistant coaches. This year women’s A and B teams will train together under the guidance of this trio. Notably, Merkushyna’s two daughters Anastasia and Oleksandra will be in this training group. At the same time, Yulia Dzhima will train with the men’s team under the long-time coach Juraj Sanitra using her personal coach Uros Velepec’s program.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, IBU Photopool, Eugen Tarasenko