Dominik Landertinger: Surgery, an Olympic Medal, and Pain-free Training
On September 14, 2017, Dominik Landertinger had major back surgery; for the next 10 weeks, he could not train or even pick up his rifle to dry fire. Yet 5 months and one day later, he was on the podium in Pyeongchang with an Olympic 20K individual Bronze medal around his neck. That achievement is a stunning highlight in the career of this reliable-as the sun-coming-up Austrian biathlete. Landertinger now owns four medals from both the Olympic Winter Games and IBU World Championships.
For many, it is hard to believe that this “kid” who lives just down the road from the Hochfilzen Biathlon Stadium is now 30 years old. It seems like only yesterday, 2009 to be exact, that he won his first IBU World Championship title in the same place where that Bronze medal was draped around his neck, Pyeongchang.
With summer training basically wrapped up, Landi sat down last week outside his home stadium to reflect on the surgery, his unexpected OWG medal and finally being 100% pain-free.
BW: Six weeks to go before the new season, are you happy with your summer training?
DL: Yes, it was the best summer of my whole career…I started on May 1, because I missed so much training last year… I had no health problems; it was really perfect. I am so happy that I had no trouble with my back and was able to do all of my training. I could do everything without pain for the first time in three years.
BW: It has been just over a year since you back surgery, do you feel like a new person?
DL: Yes, I am a new person. For a year before it, I could nothing. I would do my training and after that I could not even sit in my car, because of so much pain. Now everything is normal; it is perfect. (Thinking for a moment) Now I think I am at 100%; in June and July, I was not there, because I did not have so much training, but now I am there.
BW: Was having this surgery a little scary, thinking that it might not work?
DL: Of course; when the doctor said I needed the operation, I thought that if it did not go well, I would have to stop my career. That was really a hard time, because I love my sport. I am just 30 years old; not so old for this sport. After the operation, I was so happy when the doctor said that all was okay. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
BW: How hard was the actual return to activity and training?
DL: Actually it was not so hard, but it was long. I started at zero, 4 days after the operation with a 5-minute walk in the hospital; the next day 10 minutes and after 8 weeks, I was able to start real training.
BW: You missed so much training going into the Olympic season; did you have in the back of your mind that the 20K individual might be your best chance for a medal?
DL: I knew it was my only chance, because my running shape was really bad; in the sprint or pursuit I had no chance. The individual was perfect for me; I was happy to make this medal.
BW: You won two medals at Pyeongchang in 2009, had good competitions in the 2017 World Cup (4th sprint, 7th pursuit, 2nd relay) and now the Bronze this year. What is so special about Pyeongchang for you?
DL: (Laughing) It is a good place for me; the track is very good for me and my technique. I also like the shooting range; it is a little bit difficult with the wind, not so easy, but I just like this place.
BW: Starting the 20K, was your mindset: four zeros and controlled skiing?
DL: I knew that if I really concentrated, I could shoot zero, even though it was not going to be easy. I knew that was my chance for a medal. The running was not so good that day; the last loop was very hard.
BW: Considering that you came from absolutely zero in terms of training, was that one of your best days in biathlon?
DL: Absolutely, it was so hard to get this medal; so much work to come from zero. For me, it was so hard mentally. It was one of my best days ever!
BW: What went through your mind when you realized you had won the Bronze medal?
DL: It was amazing, unbelievable. I thought there was no chance, but then I had that perfect day. It was really cool…
BW: What was the best thing after Pyeongchang, the memory you will always have?
DL: It was when I came home and stayed with my family and friends. That is always the best time, because they are so happy when I make a medal. It is really nice to see their reaction and smiles, just enjoying time with them.
BW: When you won that first IBU Youth WCH medal in 2006, did you ever expect to be here today with Olympic and IBU WCH medals, plus all of the injuries? Could you imagine that at 17 years old?
DL: Those big goals for me; Olympic medals and a World Championship, but the road was so long. You just cannot really see that, at age 17 or 18. I never expected to see my face on the side of a sponsor’s truck or a poster, but that is nice; part of the business of the sport. But it is nicer to see how biathlon has grown in Austria; it was not so popular back then and I am happy to be a part of that.
BW: Who was your role model as a kid?
DL: Björndalen; I was a really big fan of his. It was motivating for me to see him win all of those medals and run so fast. I never dreamed that I would compete against him or be on the same podium.
BW: Would you be happy this season if you finished in the top 10 in the Total Score, had a couple of podiums?
DL: That is my goal this season, because there are so many good athletes who make it so hard to get into the top 10 and on the podium; it is a big achievement. Maybe also a medal at the IBU WCH, but this is always hard.
BW: Speaking of many good athletes: yourself, Martin, Jakov, Simon, Luki, and Tarjei are all from the same generation and all very successful, but what makes Martin so special?
DL: I think he is very concentrated in shooting; he can shoot fast and slow, which is really good. The most important thing is that he always has a good running shape; he has no low points, which is very hard (to not have during a long season). He makes really good training to do this, and knows what his body needs for training and regeneration.
BW: With the hardest training of the year over and a 10-hour week scheduled, what do you do to relax and recover?
DL: Sponsor work for sure; fishing maybe, but mostly relaxing, doing something with friends. It is a good time for a break to recover before the final race preparation begins.
BW: Is it hard to believe that this will be your 12th World Cup season?
DL: No, I like my sport and I feel I have some years left. I want to make it 6 more years to the next Olympic Games and maybe some after that. I am pretty happy just to be healthy and start this 12th season.
Next up for Landertinger and his Austrian teammates in early November, what he calls “the best time of the year…on snow in Trysil, Norway.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov, Jerry Kokesh