Beyond Martin and Kaisa: Leaving Biathlon behind…Pt 2
Biathlon is more than just the biggest stars like Martin Fourcade and Kaisa Mäkäräinen. The sport is filled with athletes who devote years to their craft, reach personal milestones and then move on. Best wishes and good luck to this second group that retired this spring.
France’s Celia Aymonier came to biathlon after competing in cross-country for several seasons including the 2014 Sochi OWG. Although her biathlon career was relatively short, Aymonier became a mainstay on the French team after just single IBU Cup in 2015. In her five seasons, she won an IBU WCH Relay Bronze medal and was on the podium with the French women’s relay nine times. A career highlight, in addition to competing in Pyeongchang 2018 was the winning mixed relay team at the 2019 Soldier Hollow World Cup, where she took the tag from long-time boyfriend Simon Desthieux.
The 29-year-old left biathlon appreciating her career and the opportunities it brought. “Self-knowledge is how I make sense of my career. Sport has allowed me to master the wheel of my boat by teaching me who I am, where I want to go and what I want to do. The various crossings, stops, storms, and lulls have been of rich teaching; I have grown, evolved and it made me stronger…I want to thank the people who supported me on this adventure; it is so nice to be appreciated and well surrounded.”
From the IBU Cup:
Germany’s Nadine Horchler was one of the unheralded journeyman biathletes who toil on the IBU cup circuit, hoping to get call to the BMW IBU World Cup. She earned 61 World Cup starts but also grabbed the Golden ring on the World Cup carousel: the 2017 Antholz Mass Start victory, surging past Gabriela Koukalová on the final uphill into the stadium with teammate Laura Dahlmeier finishing second. Horchler said that day, “I enjoyed being on the podium, but I still have not realized it…It’s unbelievable to sit between Laura and Gabi.”
That shining moment was not the only one in Horchler’s career. She had six IBU Cup individual victories, including the IBU OECH Sprint title in 2016. Almost every season, she was in the mix for the Women’s IBU Cup Total Score title, claiming the big Crystal Globe as well as the IBU Cup Women’s Sprint Score Globe in 2016. Commenting before her last competition this past February, she said, “I look back with a crying eye (after 20 years in biathlon and 14 as a professional) that it is really over now and with a happy eye on the eventful and great time.”
Russia’s Alexey Volkov retirement became official when he was recently announced as a coach on the Russian men’s team. Volkov’s calling card throughout his career was his shooting ability; he regularly finished the season with well over 90% of his targets turned white. His international career started with 2 IBU YJWCH Silver medals in 2009 at Canmore. Over the years, he also won eleven IBU OECH medals (six Gold), and six IBU SBWCH medals (four Gold). Although he only had 105 BMW IBU World Cup starts, Volkov was an integral part of the team in the 2013/2014 season when he finished 28th in the Men’s World Cup Total Score, including two individual second places in the Oberhof mass start and the Ruhpolding 20 km individual.
Volkov’s career highlight came late that season when he led off the Russian men’s Gold medal-winning relay team at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.
Italy’s Alexia Runggaldier recently added her name to list of biathlon retirees in 2020. The 29-year-old Runggaldier’s biggest successes were built on her shooting ability; most seasons, her shooting percentages hovered around 90%. She was another of the many BMW IBU World Cup biathletes whose road to success ran through the 2009 IBU YJWCH in Canmore, Canada. The then 17-year-old teamed up with Nicole Gontier and Dorothea Wierer to claim a Bronze medal in the youth relay. That day, while the future IBU Women’s World Cup Total Score winner racked up two penalties and five spare rounds, Runggaldier used just two spare rounds bringing the Italians from fourth after the second leg to their podium finish.
The 2016/17 season was the pinnacle of her career, with a two noteworthy third places in the women’s 15 km individual. The first came at her home BMW IBU World Cup in Antholz while the second resulted in an IBU WCH Bronze medal at Hochfilzen just weeks later. Runggaldier spent most of her final season on the IBU Cup circuit, earning two podiums: third in both the Ridnaun mass start 60 where she shot clean and in the Brezno-Osrblie short individual.
Mario Dolder of Switzerland hung up his rifle and skis at the end of the season, after announcing his retirement at the IBU WCH. Dolder was a regular member of the Swiss men’s relay team throughout his World Cup career that started back in 2011. Over that time, he competed in seven IBU World Championships as well as the Pyeongchang OWG. His career bests included an IBU Youth WCH Sprint Bronze medal in 2009 and sixth in the 2017 Oestersund Sprint. Regarding his retirement, he said, “After 14 years as a professional athlete, I decided to end my career and take a new path. Over the past few years, I’ve had wonderful moments and emotions. In biathlon, joy and sorrow are so close. I can say that I have experienced all of the emotions the sport can offer.”
Emily Dreissigacker of the USA also closed her career as this season ended. The 31-year-old, who started her biathlon career at the age of 26, competed on both the IBU Cup and World Cup circuits. Over that time, she was on the US team in two IBU WCHs and at the 2018 Pyeongchang OWG. She led off the US women’s relay team in Nove Mesto for her final BMW IBU Cup appearance. Dreissigacker was a great teammate according to Joanne Reid. “You could have delighted in my failures, but you did not. You cheered me up…Your choice to see the world this way, to act this way makes you one of the most compassionate heroes I have ever called my teammate.”
Terezia Poliakova of Slovakia added her name to the retired list last week. The 31-year-old had 110 BMW IBU World Cup starts, a large number of starts in the IBU Cup circuit and competed at both the Sochi and Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. Poliakova frequently ran a leg on Slovakia’s women’s relay team with her career highlight coming in the Pyeongchang where the team placed fifth.
Junior Stars Leaving
Two stars from the junior level also walked away from the sport recently. 2012 IBU Junior Individual and Pursuit World Champion Chardine Sloof who competed for the Netherlands early in her career and most recently for Sweden retired at the age of 27.
23-year-old Myrtille Begue of France winner of the Women’s Junior Cup Total Score in 2017 decided to leave biathlon. Begue also won five IBU YJWCH medals in her career including Junior Relay Gold in 2018 at Otepää.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov, Nordic Focus