Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

Arnd Peiffer was nearing the end of another nice season, sitting 11th in the World Cup Total Score, with five individual podiums, an IBU World Championships Silver medal and his first-ever BMW IBU World Cup mass start victory on his resume, when he surprised almost everyone by abruptly retiring from biathlon. There was no “farewell tour,” no last victory lap with champagne or huge fanfare, Peiffer just retired, and quietly left the sport.

That was definitely an Arnd Peiffer ending. Most athletes would be basking in adulation with a resume like Peiffer’s: 2018 Olympic Sprint Gold medalist plus relay medals that year and in 2014, two-time IBU World Champion with seventeen IBU WCH medals, eleven career wins and an amazing 46 relay and mixed relay podiums. Yet Peiffer posted a short farewell on social media, did some interviews as the season wound down and got on with his life.

Planned Retirement: Family and Erik Lesser Knew

He planned this quiet exit from biathlon well before March, sharing it with a few people. “I made the decision in summer so I had a long time to think about it…The reasons were simply my own age and family; it is now important to spend more time at home. I knew that in one or two years, my performance would go down and I would not be able to reach the podium. When you do not reach the podium, the investment is too big for me… Just a few people knew: my family and Erik (Lesser) in the autumn. That was good for me because there was one guy on the team who knew. Everybody expected me to be competing again for the Olympics in Beijing.”

“Retire with good results”

Once the decision to retire made, Peiffer was as motivated as ever. “I could enjoy the World Cup even more, because I knew it was my last year, but no one was asking me what it was like to be the last time in Oberhof or Antholz. So, it was not the main topic of the season that I was going to retire. That way I could concentrate on the races and enjoy…It added motivation for the summer and hard training sessions because I knew it was my last season and I wanted to retire with good results.”

Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

Good Season: Fighting with Younger Guys

The 34-year-old had a very good final season with six clean-shooting days, making the podium on five of those perfect days, frequently surrounded by youthful challengers like Sturla Holm Laegreid, and Johannes Dale. “You need 100% in shooting, good skis and good shape to reach the podium. It is so tough with these younger guys who are all strong, train hard and motivated, with no family and responsibilities. When you are over 30, it is not just training, eating and sleeping… I enjoyed fighting with those guys, like with Johannes Dale on skis, one of the best in the last loop…Fighting with them was cool; I am glad I had that chance; it was impressive to see what they did this season…Everyone expects Sturla to win medals at the Olympics, but the Olympics are always different.”

Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

The Quiet Champion

If there was ever a Champion who never acted like one, it was Arnd Peiffer. This is a man who shot clean and won the 2007 Obertilliach IBU Cup Sprint, his second-ever international competition and never let his foot off the gas. From that point until his retirement, Peiffer was consistently superb, with forty individual podiums, medals in every IBU World Championship he competed in, while also claiming the 2018 Olympic Winter Games Sprint Gold medal as well as IBU WCH Sprint Gold in 2011 and Individual Gold in 2019. Winning on the biggest stages, like the OWG seemed to catch him by surprise. “I don’t know how this could happen. The other two (Johannes Thingnes Boe and Martin Fourcade) were dominating the season in ski times and on the range, so I didn’t expect that anyone would be in front of them, for sure not me.”

Podium Focus

Despite his success, Peiffer’s resume has one blank spot, but he has no regrets. Always a podium contender, the German star had a top-three finish in the IBU Cup or BMW IBU World Cup every season from 2007 until 2021, a feat matched by few others. “I never won a crystal globe, a small or big one. I was sometimes second or third in these rankings but never on top. I missed that but it is okay, because I was not always the guy who could win races in a row. It was always possible for me to win some races or reach the podium and surprise people, but I never could win one and the next one and the next one…Still, I always had it in my mind that if everything is perfect, I could be on top.”

Catching up with Arnd Peiffer
Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

“Stay in the middle and do your job”

Peiffer was the consummate biathlete, head down, hard-working, quietly confident, with a life outside the sport, “I try to not make my results relevant to my self-confidence. If I have a good race, my self-confidence does not go up and it does not go down if I have bad races. I try to be in the middle always. Self-confidence is not good because you make mistakes and makes you feel like you are greater than you are…Just stay in the middle, normal confidence and do your job…I was always able to handle disappointments quite well because I had a family; my whole life was not based on my biathlon results.”

“Fun, never boring”

Although family is most important these days, Peiffer emphasized that time spent with teammates and friends like Lesser was extremely important throughout his career. “It was more than just being teammates. It is friendship, especially with Erik, because I spent so much time with him. We shared a lot of important and emotional moments. It helps to have a friend or more than one friend on the team because you spend so much time on tour. That was really good for me…We did not always agree on some topics but it was fun, never boring. We criticized each other sometimes harshly, but we could do that and not be so polite because we were friends.”

Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

The Future

Just over a month since he left biathlon, Peiffer is still plotting his future. “It is not easy. Like every athlete has to do this step, because you cannot do biathlon until you are 65. You quit something that you did most of your life and you are really good at it. No matter what I do, I will not be as good as I was as an athlete, because I was top ten in the world. It will be hard to find something where I will be top ten in the world…unless there are just ten people doing it, which might be possible!”

Fighting Spirit

The man with 369 BMW IBU World Cup starts admitted during the season that time was catching up with him, despite the podiums, the IBU WCH Silver medal and that big Hochfilzen mass start win. “It is not getting easier when you are 33-years-old. You always have to push hard and shoot clean. It is tough to fight these young guys…On the track we are all the same. It does not matter if you are 30 or 21 or won a lot of medals in the past, because nobody cares or waits for you because you are Olympic Champion or something…You fight hard for every place; that is how I like racing.”

Catching up with Arnd Peiffer

Good Moment to Retire

Reflecting on his retirement and last individual competition, Peiffer is happy, walking away with no regrets. “I am really thankful that I had the chance to be so long on the World Cup… I enjoyed it. I am very satisfied…I have no pains; I can do sport every day. It is cool to retire and still feel good. I think it was a good moment to retire. I still was fighting in the Nove Mesto pursuit. I shot really bad. Although I was shooting bad, I enjoyed fighting with these guys. It was a cool moment, because I thought, ‘okay I am retiring but still enjoy racing.’ It was good to retire before you do not like racing anymore. It was (going out on my own terms) which was what I wanted to do.”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov, Ernst Wukits