A look at the 2021 coaching carousel
Olympic seasons usually see little changes in coaching staffs but after a Covid-19-challenged year, several nations including Poland, Ukraine, Slovenia, Italy and Estonia made alterations to their coaching line-up as they begin to prepare for Beijing 2022. With new coaches in place and the athletes well-rested, “camping season” as in training camps, as well as cycling season kicked off as the calendar flipped over to May.
Greis and Bratli leave Poland
The first spin on the Coaching Carousel came before the 2020/21 season ended when Michael Greis resigned as Poland’s Women’s Head Coach, a position he held for two seasons after working with the USA team and managing the Lenzerheide Stadium in Switzerland. Greis and Men’s Coach Anders Bratli both announced their departure at the conclusion of the BMW IBU World Cup in Nove Mesto na Moravě.
Kowalczyk and Kolodziejczyk
The Polish Biathlon Federation replaced the duo with the veteran coach Adam Kolodziejczyk who will lead the team as they prepare for next February’s Olympic Winter Games. Kolodziejczyk previously was both the Head Coach and Men’s Coach from 2011-2017. He admitted, “Taking over the national team a year before the Olympics is certainly quite a challenge. I must admit that the management board's proposal was unexpected and there was not much time for a decision.”
Shortly afterward, Polish cross-country legend Justyna Kowalczyk-Tekieli was announced as the new sports director for the Polish biathlon team. The double Olympic Champion concluded her professional career in 2019 and has been officially introduced in her new role in March this year.
Velepec Returns to Ukraine
Three years after leaving the Ukrainian Women’s Team to return to his long-held position guiding the Slovenian Men’s team, Uros Velepec made a U-turn on the coaching carousel. This time, he headed east again to guide the Ukrainian women in their journey to Beijing 2022. Unlike his previous departure, Velepec left his home country on good terms and will continue to advise the expert council. He admitted that his prize pupil Jakov Fak “will continue on his independent path that I set out for him and can be even better at the Olympics.”
Regarding Ukraine, the 53-year-old Velepec has “unfinished business,” according to an interview with Slovenske Novice, “I decided to accept the offer (Ukraine) and try to finish what I didn’t last time, as we didn’t achieve high-profile results at the Olympics with the Ukrainians.” The veteran coach never completely disconnected with Ukraine in the past seasons, coaching 2014 Olympic Relay Gold medalist Yulia Dzhima to BMW IBU World Cup podiums every season since the Pyeongchang 2018. With Velepec taking over the women’s team, Juraj Sanitra who guided both the Ukrainian men and women last season now goes back to his original position, working exclusively with the men’s team.
New Slovenian Men’s Coach Janez Marič
Velepec’s departure opened the door for a new coach but a familiar face guiding the Slovenian men, that of Janez Marič. The 45-year-old Marič, coached by Velepec for many years was the first Slovenian to top a World Cup podium, taking the 2003 Oestersund 20 km individual with teammate Marko Dolenc alongside him in third place. Marič, the Slovenian Junior Coach in recent years has been quite successful with Alex Cisar winning IBU Junior World Championship titles and Lovro Planko and Anton Vidmar taking IBU Youth WCH medals. Planko and Vidmar will join Cisar, Fak, Klemen Bauer, Miha Dovžan, and Rok Tršan on the senior national team for the new coach’s first season on the BMW IBU World Cup circuit. Andreja Mali remains in her position as the Slovenian Women’s Coach.
Italy adds Mirco Romanin to Team A Staff
Italy did a bit of tinkering in their staff as the new training season approached. With eleven athletes in their Team A-Project Beijing 2022, they promoted Mirco Romanin from the junior team to a coaching position with the top group. Romanin has been extremely successful as Italy’s Junior Head Coach in his three-year tenure. Last season, his team came home from the IBU YJWCH in Obertilliach with ten medals. Five athletes that Romanin coached in recent seasons are currently on the Team A roster.
Estonia advertised a search for a new Head Coach in early April to replace current Head Coach Indrek Tobreluts who has been with the team for three years. Estonian Biathlon Team president Assar Jõepera told Delfi Sport at that time that the federation had a clear vision on how the team should move forward. At this point, the Federation has not announced a successor to Tobreluts.
With coaching changes mostly completed, most teams have either had a short first training camp or are preparing for one later in the month. The Italians and Norwegians were among the first to gather their teams with both kicking off camps last week. The Italians with an expanded 11-person A team broke into two groups, allowing for higher quality work. Olympic medalists Lukas Hofer, Dorothea Wierer and Dominik Windisch were joined by Didier Bionaz and 21-year-old Tommaso Giacomel under the guidance of Andreas Zingerle and Andrea Zattoni. Italy’s fourth OWG medalist Lisa Vittozzi headed up a group of six, including A team newcomer and multi-IBU YJWCH medalist Rebecca Passler and the veteran Thomas Bormolini participating in a simultaneous camp in Martell with Klaus Hoellrigl and Romanin in charge.
While the Italians were working in two groups, the Norwegian men took their first steps on their road to Beijing in their usual Oslo camp. Siegfried Mazet provided first shooting tips to the group gathered in the indoor shooting range via Zoom from France, while volume training began on forest trails.
France; Cycling Season
The French squads plan to kick off their season with a combined men’s/women’s camp in Chambéry. The teams will convene at the Stade Alexis Boeuf to take advantage of its rollerski loops, running trails and a 30-point shooting range. In the meantime, cycling season is in full swing, with everyone hitting the roads and trails, including two-time World Champion Emilien Jacquelin who spent several days mountain biking on the island of Elba with Antonin Guigonnat, former teammate Martin Fourcade and several other friends.
Get ready, the teams have left the starting gate with Beijing 2022 and the 2021/22 BMW IBU World Cup season in their sights!
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Andrea Zattoni, Mirco Romainin, Martin Fourcade