Emilien Jacquelin: “Just Trying to be Myself”
Emilien Jacquelin went into last season simply trying to prove that he belonged in the BMW IBU World Cup circuit. He passed that test with flying colors, walking away with the IBU WCH Pursuit title and the small crystal globe in that discipline. Now after a lockdown spring and a solid summer, he is stronger, mentally refreshed and… in a good way, nervously excited to get the new season underway.
Jacquelin was undeniably the breakout star of the 2019/20 season. He finished 5th in the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score up from 24th in 2018/19, went from zero career individual podiums to eight, added eight relay podiums, plus a win and a third place in the single mixed relay, and came home from the IBU World Championships with Pursuit and Relay Gold medals plus Mass Start and Single Mixed Bronze medals. “I came into the season, just wanting to be myself, to prove to my coach that I belong on that level (World Cup). I wanted to show my way to do biathlon; to shoot fast and try to do my best every time, not be afraid of Martin or anybody. I did not think about being World Champion. I trusted myself.” That confidence was the foundation of an impressive season for the 25-year-old, who trained with and soon might be following in the footsteps of Martin Fourcade.
Fourcade’s influence is obvious. That was him hugging and offering Jacquelin heartfelt congratulations after the Antholz Pursuit. Jacquelin has the same focus, passion and love of biathlon as his mentor. “I someday want to win the overall…I take a lot of pleasure when my shape is good. I want to enjoy and share with the public and the crowd. I love it when there is a lot of people; I am super jazzed! It will be different without the crowd at the next races; a new challenge, but I love challenges. I want to prove to myself and everyone that I can make great races.” Thinking further, he added, “Martin was not someone who gives advice. You just feel it. Training with him every day, you always want more. You want to be like him. Maybe he is a better shooter in training and you want to be like him; better every day. The biggest thing I learned from Martin is that every training is important and you have to make the best every time. I tried to be like him; maybe too much when we started this season. I wanted to be fast, to be good and better every time. It is really stressful, so in July I was very tired. Then I decided to just be myself; I know that it is important to improve but I do not want to be (exactly) like Martin. I need to be myself; that is the best way to learn and improve.”
The Covid-19 spring was not a good time for Jacquelin. “April is an important month when you go on holidays to think about something else other than biathlon. In France with the confinement and Martin’s retirement, I had things to do with media and sponsors. I was at home and always focused on biathlon. I could not think about anything else, so it was really hard to start training and think about the new season. It was good to have six weeks to recover and relax physically but not mentally. I just wanted a break which I did not get until the end of August.”
Getting the Feeling Back
Still, it was a good summer for Jacquelin. “Physically, it was perfect. I improved a lot, I am faster, stronger and have more endurance. I think I can be more consistent this season. I trained well, but I was not 100% every day. I felt I was missing little push where you want more every day. But in September that came back and I have it now. As the season comes close, every day I am more and more hungry. I am happy to feel that; it gives me great joy!”
Being on a talented team, challenging every day keeps this rising French star on his toes. He emphasized the importance of team. “Quentin (Fillon Maillet) pushes the hardest every day. With Martin gone, he wants the leadership. In a team like we have, we do not need a leader. We have incredible talent with him, Fabien (Claude), Simon Desthieux, Antonin Guigonnat and me. Our strength is the group. We are all strong enough to reach the podium and I hope it is that way during the season.”
Jacquelin’s overall shooting performance jumped to 85% last season, up from 81% the previous season. However, from the Antholz sprint through Kontiolahti, his rifle was on fire, hitting 102 of 108 shots in individual competitions, roughly 93%. Smiling broadly, he said, “I think with 93% I could be in the top three in the Overall and win more races. I would be very happy with that. The difference was in standing shooting. I shoot well in prone; it is quite easy for me. Standing is very mental. The end of the season was easier for me because I was confident. I shot fast. I wanted that Red (pursuit) Bib.”
“Good to win the last one!”
He capped summer training with a victory in his “specialty,” the pursuit in the final rollerski competition a couple of weeks ago, taking his first French Championship over teammates Fillon Maillet and Desthieux in a finish line sprint. The win added to Jacquelin’s growing confidence. Fillon Maillet had won the sprint/pursuit double in September, while Desthieux won the previous day’s sprint. “It was a pretty good race. I usually start fast, but this time I tried something different, went out really slowly for a few hundred meters. Then I got faster and faster. It is always good to win the last one!”
With that win while feeling better every day, Jacquelin eagerly anticipates the coming season. He hoped to line up with the Norwegians at their Season Opener in mid-November. However, the French team cancelled their trip to Sjusjøen, due to Norway’s Covid-19 quarantines in Norway and will now prepare in Bessans.
Nerves and Stress; Ready for the Season
Even without the Norwegian match-up, Jacquelin is ready. “I am really nervous, happy to feel this.. I think if you feel this way, it is because you are ready. If you are not ready, you do not feel that way. You cannot be stressed if you are not ready to make big things…I think I am ready for this season. I want to be at my best; I am anxious and have a lot of stress but I do not fear that. I enjoy it; it is a part of sports. During the last training weeks, you wonder if you are really ready for this season? ‘I am not; I have to shoot better, yes. I have to change something, no.’ That is what I love the best!”
Photos: Emilien Jacquelin, IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov