German Young gun Simon Kaiser
"When there was snow, my father and I built a 60 metre track around our home and I ran 200 laps."
This is how Simon Kaiser describes his first training sessions on skis in Birkenfeld, a small town in west Germany, an area where biathlon is most watched on tv and not practiced. Simon had his first appearance on the IBU Junior Cup stage and that on the World Cup track in Pokljuka, the 2021 IBU World Championships venue, which had just been rebuilt, equipped with steep climbs and steep descents.
Jumping into the Cold Water
The 20-year-old started his new biathlon chapter without a major briefing. "We had heard about the conditions before, but in the end it was a jump in the cold water."
It's not that easy, because the IBU Junior Cup has some rules and requirements: material control, doping control or accreditations; all things that hadn't existed in Simon's previous biathlon life. For example, during the material control it was immediately apparent that a scarf contains too many sponsor logos. Not allowed, so a replacement was needed before the first race.
"It's good that my teammates take me by the hand a little and always help me with questions," Simon said , relieved. The procedures give the athletes an impression for the first time of what it means to be a professional biathlete. "It's all very professional here. You feel like you're in the World Cup."
That Simon even ended up in biathlon with dreams of the World Cup is unusual for a boy from his area. His parents Jutta and Hansi were good athletes themselves, father Hansi as an international-class cyclist. However, he advised him against cycling "because of the risk of injury" and Simon didn't like his mother's sport, athletics, either. Early on, it was recognized that the boy from Birkenfeld was a ski talent, so the search for a ski club began. Not easy at all, because biathlon is not practised in Simon's home region. Through friends he learned that there was a club in nearby Saarland. With good performances there, he was the first Saarlander to recommend himself for the Sportgymnasium in Oberhof in 2014. Since then he has also been training there with stars like Erik Lesser in a training group: "It couldn't be better. Erik and the others pass on their knowledge to you and sometimes stand behind me at the shooting range. It's like an additional trainer," Simon enthuses about the training conditions.
IBU Junior Cup - Let's get it on!
On Thursday it was raceday, finally! The individual was on the schedule. "For the first time you have a competition with athletes from all over the world. But then you have a little more respect." While in the Alpencup or the Deutschland-Pokal many starters cavort at the shooting range, in the IBU Junior Cup the credo is "Quality before quantity". Before the first competition Simon therefore had "real desire" after his good performances in the previous weeks. "In shooting it somehow 'made click'. I go into the competition with a healthy self-confidence." His parents were also "pretty excited. They never would have thought that I could make it, and now it's time."
On the demanding track with a "really difficult downhill" it went "quite ok" for Simon. With a solid shooting and a three penalties, finished in 26th place. "All right for the first race, I was stronger on the course than expected. On Saturday in the sprint I see a few chances for me."
However, right from the start things didn't go well for the German. "I was pretty exhausted, my legs were heavy from the start." Nevertheless, he landed in the points again. 35th place, with two penalties, so "everything is fine". The reactions after the race from home also show the new extent. Through the Datacenter, all of Simon's results can be followed live on the Internet, which means that the first WhatsApp messages appear on his mobile phone shortly after the race. His friends write: "Simon, what was going on at the shooting range? But more for fun, they like to make jokes." On Sunday he supported his team-mates in the relay. That succeeded quite well, because the Mixed Relay reached a strong second place.
"I'm not completely satisfied with my sporting performance, especially because of the sprint's running performance, but in general I'm glad that I'm allowed to be there and to experience how everything works. The professionalism and the excitement definitely make me want to compete more".
Not much Time to Rest; The Journey Continues
There's a chance to improve right after that. On Monday the Junior Cup convoy moved on to Martell, Italy. "I'd love to run into the top 20, that's definitely possible," he predicted for the upcoming IBU Junior Cup stage. He has already reached his season goal, qualifying for the IBU Junior Cup. "The Junior Cup is the highest level I can reach at the moment. To be at the start for Germany for the first time and to represent my country fills me with pride".
Asked what his career looks like in the long run, he said brashly: "I assume that it will work out someday. Better optimistic than pessimistic. If you say it's never going to work anyway, then the motivation is also missing.“ It's possible that training partner Erik Lesser will soon not only be behind Simon Kaiser at the shooting range, but also shooting next to him.