Merci for the legacy, Martin
With his arms held high Martin Fourcade won the pursuit in Kontiolahti, the last competition of the season and the last competition of his glorious career. As he stood in the finish area all other athletes stopped at him to say thank you and goodbye, to pay tributes to his career which spanned over 10 years and saw him win seven consecutive BMW IBU World Cup Total Score titles, 13 gold medals at the IBU World Championships, five gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games and 79 individual competitions at the BMW IBU World Cup level. He looked at peace with the world and himself for before everybody joined him Fourcade had just enough time to turn around and see everything he ever wanted to see once he was gone.
One year ago
Skipping the finals in Oslo - Holmenkollen at the end of the 2018/2019 season and watching JT Boe win his 14th, 15th and 16th competition of the season, a record, Martin Fourcade was thinking hard and thoroughly about what went wrong. Winning almost at will for most of the decade he grew accustomed to wear a yellow bib, it felt like a second skin to him, but no longer. JT Boe, his five years younger challenger from Norway, just started to peak in his physical strength, his skiing better than ever, his in-the-competition choices more measured than before, his confidence growing by the day as he observed the winner of seven consecutive BMW IBU World Cup Total Score titles struggle.
In the summer leading to the season 2019/2020 Fourcade trained with less physical strain on his body than usual but with new found zest for biathlon. He just wanted to have another season, test his new approach, check how he can conquer his self doubts and see how all that sums up at the end. He also knew he needed to accomplish one thing if he was to enjoy another successful season in the BMW IBU World Cup: regain his status as the best French biathlete first, such was the depth of the talent and ambition in his own team which grew up with him, around him and learned from him in their shared life on the tour.
How Fourcade lived consistency
His teammates watched from a very privileged distance a man who started biathlon because his brother Simon did it, because he wanted to become an IBU Junior World Champion just like his brother did but foremost because he was in the nature, among friends, enjoying the lifestyle in the Pyrenees. When he found out that his body can take almost any physical punishment in the training, that his low heart beat enables him to ski at almost 100% for most the competitions and that he enjoys mastering the shooting skills for through this process he mastered his emotions and for bigger part of his career those of his competitors as well, he wanted, really badly, to win one Men's World Cup Total Score title. To see how that feels like and to feel what it looks to be like the great Ole Einar Bjoerndalen for one year.
When Fourcade won his first Men's World Cup Total Score title in the season 2011/2012 he was so physically exhausted and so emotionally spent that he thought that he could not and did not want to go through all that again. Then the summer trainings began and as Fourcade went through his first days of roller skiing he concluded that there is one pain bigger than the one he needed to go through to win the big crystal globe: not to win one. Observing his professional surroundings he also realised that most of his colleagues, top athletes like himself, devoted to their sport like himself, do not or can not comprehend the consistency as profoundly as he does. That they come to the preseason camp as motivated as him, that they invest a lot of energy into first few days, maybe weeks, taking care about the details, stretching properly, eating, drinking and sleeping properly. But that most of them start, though barely visible, to give themselves a break now and then as the season evolves and how that adds up through the season and through the whole career.
Knowing that he can stay consistent in everything he does, every single day between the beginning of May and the end of March a year later gave Fourcade a unique source of confidence he sometimes expressed in a very French, but never disrespectful way. Like in the pursuit in Oberhof in the Olympic 2017/2018 season when he cleared his last target and paused, just long enough, to give a still shooting JT Boe, his brother Tarjei and Emil Hegle Svendsen a very meaningful stare, look, look, who is getting the better of you, yet again.
“Anybody of these three can beat me on any given day,” later said Fourcade. “I just wanted to show them that as much I respect everybody I fear nobody.”
Fourcade finished Olympic 2017/2018 season with the seventh consecutive big crystal globe in his hands and said that that the fight for it with JT Boe was the most beautiful of his career and that he felt so complete he could peacefully (athletically) die. He (athletically) lived to see two more seasons.
First one, when everything went wrong for him and JT Boe took over as the best biathlete in the world.
Second one, when he faced the new reality, embraced it and won two of his most precious medals at the IBU World Championships.
The last one
Fourcade started the 2019/2020 season knowing and accepting that he can’t directly take on JT Boe for he skis faster than anybody else. He also decided to fight until the end, no matter the circumstances and no matter the position at the end of the (each) competition. He fought and failed and fought in the Trimester 1 while JT kept winning. He won and won and won and won in the Trimester 2 when JT waited for his son Gustav to say hello to the world and skipped Oberhof and Ruhpolding weeks. He was in great form at the IBU World Championships in Antholz - Anterselva 2020 and won the individual, his 11th individual gold medal which tied him with Bjoerndalen’s record. He was then a member of French relay team that won gold after 19 years wait and that touched him deeply for as much as Fourcade always made sure he was the best he loved to share as well and he saw this gold as the triumph of many generations of French biathletes.
When Fourcade turned around to see who will finish second, third and fourth in Kontiolahti’s pursuit he smiled. He saw Quentin Fillon Maillet, his teammate who anchored the winning French relay team and who skied faster than even JT in Antholz, in the second place, his young friend, protege and the greatest (new) talent in French team Emilien Jacquelin win the pursuit globe in third place and finally JT Boe who managed to win the Men's World Cup Total Score in the fourth place. What he was leaving behind was a super talented French team and a legacy that will never stop evolving, he groomed Jacquelin for years, gave him every possible advice he could and saw him blossom along himself into the world champion, he also helped JT Boe became the best biathlete he could possibly be and his very much worthy successor for the time being.