Coaches' Corner: Italy's Patrick Oberegger
When Italy captured their first biathlon medal since 1988 in the mixed relay at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, it was no surprise that such a historical moment was in a team event. Since then, the Italians have always been at their best when competing side-by-side with their teammates. During a recent training camp in Forni Avoltri, Head Coach Patrick Oberegger talked about this; within few sentences, it became clear that the word team was not only central when it comes to competitions, but also in terms of values.
Olympics: a (non) Special Year
“For us, the Italian team, we tried to change the least possible from the past seasons, because everyone talks about the Olympic year, but we know that the work already started 4 years ago," he commented in a calm voice while sitting at in the cosy stube at the team hotel. Just by looking into his eyes, it is easy to see the passion he puts in the everyday work, the same as he demands from everyone in the team, from athletes to trainers.
“Actually, this season we are aiming at quality over quantity when it comes to training. Overall, we all know that this is the year that counts, but we knew that in the past years too, so the goal is to keep calm and stay focused.”
Peaking at the Right Time
With the focus on the OWG, most teams try to plan their training to reach a peak in Pyeongchang. However, the Italians are not opting for such an extreme planning.
“One of the things we discussed a lot is the so called 'finding a peak of form at the right event.’ Over the years, we noticed that it is extremely hard to time everything so that athletes reach the highest of their form in a specific week. Our idea is that, if the team functions well from the beginning of the season, and that means not just getting good results. It also involves how the relationship with coaches, physiotherapists, and everything goes. Then, it is so much easier for them to find their best form at the right moment.”
“The body is important, but it is the head that makes it possible to find one's best form many times during a season. After all, we all are spending more time with the team than with our families, so it is pivotal that this does not weight on any of us, that we are all happy to be travelling and working for a common result. Only in that case, if one in the team does not have a good day, there will be someone else stepping up; we've seen it before and that is what we believe in.”
Why Team is Important
As previously stated, the Italian squad often seems to find their best form during team competitions. This is a point of pride for the coaches. “Our strength is the team, there is no doubt. Especially the women are all at a very similar level, but even the younger guys are closing to the experts. This situation pushes them with a positive internal rivalry and the final outcome is that we believe a lot in our chances in the team events.”
According to Oberegger, having a strong team and a positive atmosphere helps the individuals, both during training and competitions. “A great thing about our team, possibly our biggest asset, is that we are a very diverse group; this helps each of its members to improve.”
“Biathlon is one of the most complete sports out there and the level is so high that, contrary to what most think, one cannot just shoot well or ski fast: you have to do everything well. In our team, we had some who shot fast, some who shot well and some who skied fast. Now they are all pushing each other in a way that they are compensating or improving their weak areas. Right now, if you were to ask me to choose one of the 4 girls in the team for a great result next season, I would not know whom to pick. I think that's actually great for them all, because it takes the pressure off. They know that if one is not having a great day, there are the others who can do it for the team.”
Summertime; Work Time
“There is no doubt that athletes are shaped in the off-season,” Oberegger said, with determination. This is the time to put the hard work and fix things ahead of the winter, when it will all be about competitions. Their recipe is a crescendo of intensity to reach the winter at their best. “We started during spring with very generic work; some go back on snow for the last time, but mostly it is about cycling, hiking, and running. The rifle is also having a bit of rest at that time, with only a few sessions focusing on basic technique and positions. Then, slowly, we reintroduce shooting combined rollerski training to simulate biathlon until we get to high intensity weeks like those, when we finalize the summer work to be ready for autumn.”
Italy, a Big Biathlon Nation, But...
“In Italy, biathlon is growing bigger and bigger, also thanks to the results of this team in the past years, but we are still a small nation compared to most others,” the Coach admitted, being realist about the sport’s size in his country. However, results and numbers seem to smile on the future of his team. “Behind this A-team, there are many promising juniors, who achieved great results. There is no doubt that if we are getting good results in the main team, it surely is thanks to the great work that is done with young generations. Obviously, we are talking about champions here. However in any case, when I read that the number of kids doing biathlon is on the rise in my country, I am happy. Any kid doing sport is good for that person, regardless of the results. Doing sport gives you so much that is just a superb life experience.”
Pictures: Christian Manzoni, NordicFocus