Laura Dahlmeier Retires
Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, after winning at every level of biathlon from the IBU YJWCH to the Olympic Winter Games and IBU World Championships quietly stepped away from the sport at the age of 25 this week. Dahlmeier was undoubtedly the female star of her generation, known as a gritty competitor who, at her best was brilliant on the shooting range and devastatingly fast on the tracks.
Stunning Performances at 23-years-old
Dahlmeier’s 2016-17 career season showcased her seemingly unlimited talent. Before culminating that year with the IBU World Cup Total Score title and the big Crystal Globe, Dahlmeier was the unquestioned biggest star at the IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen, winning an unprecedented six medals: five Gold medals and one Silver medal. That series of stunning performances came at just 23 years old. Few athletes (except Magdalena Neuner) ever reached such a pinnacle of their sport as such a young age.
IBU YJWCH to Relay Debut
Dahlmeier previewed her successful career at another Austrian venue, Obertilliach, in the 2013 IBU YJWCH. She won Gold medals in the individual, relay and sprint, and a Silver medal in the pursuit. Yet it was the sprint that stood out where she shot clean and buried second place Olga Podchufarova by 48 seconds; third and fourth placers Lisa Theresa Hauser and Anais Chevalier-Bouchet also shot clean but were almost a minute back. The Obertilliach performances sent her to her first BMW IBU World Cup start in the relay at the 2013 IBU World Championships in NMNM. On the sport’s biggest stage, running the third leg, she shot clean while pulling the German women from 38 seconds back to first position.
She was a World Cup starter 151 more times, with just a single IBU Cup start (a tune-up/test) this past winter in Ridnaun in the single mixed relay where she finished second with Roman Rees. Yet Dahlmeier’s career from the early days although filled with promise, was no bed of roses. The first full World Cup season in 2013-14 saw her shooting clean on winning relays in Annecy and Ruhpolding, yet never on the podium in individual competitions. The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games were simply forgettable for the 20-year-old.
Breakthrough Sprint Win: “Waiting Since a Child”
In the coming seasons, illness and injuries would mean missed World Cups. In the 2014-15 season her first start was at Pokljuka in late December. After a summer injury, she admitted that getting on the World Cup podium “would not be easy; it would be a hard time.” Yet, on February 7, 2015, at Nove Mesto na Moravě where she first tasted the big time atmosphere of the BMW IBU World Cup circuit, everything fell together with her first-ever World Cup win. That day, she said, “I have been waiting since I was a little child. I always said I wanted to come to the World Cup and win…I thought maybe at the end of the season, but not in February, so it is really cool.” That was individual win number 1. Just 10 days short of 4 years later, she claimed her final win, number 22 in the Antholz mass start last January.
“Perfect Day; Perfect Race”
That first win set her career in fast forward. Six more podiums followed that season, including her first IBU World Championships medals: Silver in the pursuit, and then Gold medal as number one in the women’s relay. Expectations for the quiet lady from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, who loves the mountains and their highest peaks, would never be the same. Two wins that season would turn into five the next year; the first individual IBU World Championships Gold medal of her career came in a clean-shooting pursuit. She commented in what would almost become her standard line after a win, “It was a perfect day for me, a perfect race. Everything was really good for me…I got the German flag; it was great to come to the finish and now I am the World Champion.” Although that was her only Gold medal in Oslo, she left the Norwegian capital with four more medals around her neck: mass start Silver and Bronze in the sprint, individual and relay.
“At Least One Medal”
Going into her career-best season, Dahlmeier was for once healthy. No significant injuries or illnesses slowed her down in the summer of 2016. Although she was filled with biathlon talent, there was always a bit of hesitation in the German star when she spoke publicly. She always had big goals but kept them close. However in November 2016, the now full-fledged biathlon star was optimistic, admitting her goals were, “First to stay healthy and compete in as many races as possible, not just compete but compete well. I would also like to win a medal in Hochfilzen; at least one. I know that winning five last year was very special and is very hard to repeat.”
Brilliantly sunny Hochfilzen became “Lauraland” in February 2017. After conceding the sprint title to Gabriela Koukalová by a mere four seconds, every other day belonged to Dahlmeier, who was cheered wildly by the predominantly German crowd. She explained, “I wanted to start with a good race and the sprint was that, with the Silver medal and I was very happy. I said okay; just a little more and perhaps you can catch the Gold medal. Then the pursuit Gold medal… I just stayed focused from one race to the next. It was just perfect…The last race, the mass start was really good, four times zero. Every day was really good.”
Actually, those Hochfilzen days plus the ones prior in Antholz and those following in Pyeongchang and Kontiolahti are what make legends. The Dahlmeier legend will live on for years to come. A win in the Antholz 15 km individual kicked it off. In the next 13 competitions (10 individual, 3 relays), the results looked like this: 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 1st! In the span of the IBU World Championships, Pyeongchang and Kontiolahti World Cups, while wearing the Yellow Bib, she fired 120 shots in the 9 individual competitions and hit 115 of them, a eye-popping 95% success rate. By the time she left Kontiolahti, the big Crystal Globe was hers. “I have no words; it is such a great moment, a great dream come true.”
Pyeongchang: Historic, Childhood Dream
Dahlmeier came to the Olympic season 2017/2018 focused on Pyeongchang only, adding to her legacy with a historic sprint/pursuit double. She shot clean in the sprint on a windy evening when only two others went 10-for-10. A brilliant last loop resulted in a 24.2 second romp to Gold, making her the second German woman to win the Olympic Sprint title. “Shooting was the key for sure… it is a perfect day. Winning (Olympic Gold) is a dream since I was a child.” One penalty in the pursuit on another very windy evening made Dahlmeier the only women ever to win the Olympic Sprint/Pursuit double in the same Games. She capped off her trip to Korea with Bronze in the 15km individual and later saying, “For me it is a great feeling to be in top shape at the Olympics: it was my goal at the start of the season and I got it."
Last season started slowly for the Dahlmeier, with illness wiping out December. She came back and picked up that final win in Antholz. By the time the IBU World Championships in Östersund rolled around last March, it was obvious that winning medals might be a challenge. Yet true champions like Laura Dahlmeier can never be counted out. Her shooting saved the day in both the sprint and pursuit, with zero and one penalties, respectively. The result was two Bronze medals.
By the Numbers
Two more Bronze medals closed her outstanding career with these numbers: 2 Olympic Gold medals and 1 Olympic Bronze medal, 15 IBU World Championships medals (7 Gold, 2 Silver, 5 Bronze), 50 career individual podiums (22-1st places, 17-2nd places, 11-3rd places), 2017 World Cup Total Score title Crystal Globe and the 2 small Crystal Globes.
Special Medals: “Not a Given to be in the Top 3”
Some of Laura Dahlmeier’s comments when she did not win the Gold medal show just how much she appreciated her biathlon success. The Pyeongchang 15km Bronze elicited this, “Three medals in three races is incredible; this Bronze is a great joy…It is not a given to be in top 3 at the Olympics...” A couple of months ago in Östersund, with a Sprint Bronze medal in hand, she added, “(This medal) is in some ways special for me. I had a little cold. I also just decided this morning to start. I thought it was important to have good shooting then everything is possible. Now, I am so happy about this medal. This Bronze medal feels like a Gold medal to me.” Later, she summed up, “Every medal at the IBU World Championships is special.”
When the snow flies this coming winter, Laura will be missed by fans and rivals. She will likely be out ski-touring or peering down from some mountaintop. The IBU and Biathlon Family wish her much success in the next chapters of her life.
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Dear fans, friends, partners and companions - it's time to say goodbye! 👋 After an unbelievably tough season full of ups and downs, I no longer feel the one hundred percent passion required for professional sport. That's why I have decided to end my active biathlon career after some time of reflection. Since my childhood, I have dedicated myself completely to biathlon, I was able to experience incredibly great and intense moments and got to know some wonderful companions and supporters, without whom all this would not have been possible. Many thanks for all the years I spent in this sport - they made me who I am! 🙏 To make room for new adventures, it's time for me to close the biathlon chapter. A detailed report about my reasons for ending my career can be found on my website - link in bio. I am looking forward to what is awaiting me now - see you out there! 🙂 Best, Laura ✌️ #bettertobefAst