New Season Ahead: Taking a Ride on Coaching Carousel
As every Olympic cycle ends, the coaching carousel starts up, with coaches jumping off for retirement and others catching a ride for the next four years. So far, Germany, France, USA, Finland, Poland, Ukraine and Slovenia have announced their new staffs. Usually by this time of the year, with training about to start, most of the vacant positions have been filled. However, after a long season and a slow return to training, a couple of big teams are still waiting to announce their new hires.
Although Germany came home from Pyeongchang with the most biathlon medals, seven, of which three came from Laura Dahlmeier, the federation made some big changes in their staff for the coming seasons. Still, the two big names of Mark Kirchner and Gerald Hönig remain in significantly different roles.
Head Coach Kirchner; Youth Movement
Kirchner, the long-time men’s coach has now moved into the position of Head Coach for both men and women. Kirchner’s new position is expected to bring the harmony of the men’s squad to the women’s team.
Hönig accordingly now is the National Shooting Coach. The new hires on the team represent a youth movement, with the new coaches all under age 40. According to a DSV press release, the federation commented, “We deliberately chose young coaches.”Stepping up to fill Hönig’s shoes on the women’s team is 36-year-old Kristian Mehringer from the Ruhpolding training center whose title is Senior Women’s Discipline Coach. Although Kirchner is in charge of both teams, it seems that he will still be overseeing the men’s side, because 32-year-old Isidor Scheurl, also from Ruhpolding now has the title of Assistant Men’s Coach. Rounding out the changes, 36-year-old Florian Steirer has been hired as Assistant Women’s Coach.
Clean Slate in France
France, number 2 in the Pyeongchang medals race will start the new training season with a completely new slate of coaches. This comes on the heels of the retirement of long-time men’s coach Stephane Bouthiaux, who left after 11 years at the helm. Shooting guru Franck Badiou also left, wanting to step back a bit after two years in the World Cup grind. On the women’s side, Julien Robert stepped aside as did the shooting range fixture Jean-Paul Giachino.
Typical of the French federation, most of the new coaches came from within France, but not necessarily from biathlon. Former cross-country World Champion Vincent Vittoz moves into Bouthiaux’s position, heading the men’s program. According to “Nordic Magazine,” Martin Fourcade and Co will find, “the qualities they liked in Bouthiaux: a solid coach, precise, structured, where everything is calculated and justified.” Moving behind the scope for the men will be former Italian biathlete Patrick Favre, who has been the quite successful shooting coach for the Italian Team. His brother Christian is a French wax tech, working with Fourcade.
Frédéric Jean and Poret Move Up
The women’s team will now be headed by former biathlete Frédéric Jean, most recently the IBU Cup team coach. Jean helped guide the careers of rising stars Antonin Guigonnat and Emilien Jacquelin. Vincent Poret, the IBU Cup shooting coach will move into that same position with the women. With the two main men from the IBU Cup moving up, Robert and Giachino are expected to move into the IBU Cup positions, o help groom the next generation.
Big Names, Greis and Auchentaller Move to US Team
The changes in the US Biathlon team have been on the horizon for some time, since Women’s Coach Jonne Kähkönen took the job as Head Coach in his native Finland. At the same time, Men’s Coach Jonas Johansson went back to Sweden as Development Coach.
Homecoming for Auchentaller
With the top spots empty, the US Biathlon Association picked up two big names. Double Olympic Gold medalist for Germany Michael Greis takes over the men’s team, which Armin Auchentaller returned to head the women’s squad. Greis has recently headed the development and coaching the Lenzerheide, Switzerland training center, his first big coaching position. Ironically, The Italian Auchentaller has been the Swiss Women’s Coach for the past four years, but previously was with the US team. the Antholz resident said, “I'm looking forward to being back," Auchentaller said. "Coming back to the U.S. team feels like being home. I hope we'll have a really strong team together and be successful in the World Cup and at the World Championships (the 2020 IBU WCH will be in Antholz).”
Greis “Pushing the Limits”
Greis commented, “I'm glad to be in Lake Placid. My first impressions are great here. I'm really looking forward to working with the men's team. We have a small but talented team and we will push the limits.”
Burke on Staff
Recently retired IBU WCH Silver medalist Tim Burke was also added to the US staff as Athlete Development Manager, responsible for “increasing the quality of training and performance for developing athletes and clubs across the U.S., including youth and junior elite athletes, post-collegiate athletes.” Burke admitted, “I'm very excited to have the opportunity to pass on the knowledge that I gained during my biathlon career…Now I have the perfect chance to 'pay it forward.”
Kähkönen to Finland
The departure of Kähkönen who had been in the USA for eight years to the head job in Finland was a return similar to Auchentaller. Kähkönen had previously been Finland’s coach from 2006-10. Kähkönen, skilled as both a shooting coach and communicator heads home to take over a team on the rise. While in the USA, he transformed the US Women with his steady coaching style into a very competitive team led by IBU WCH Silver medalist Susan Dunklee He commented, “The rise of the Finnish team around Kaisa Mäkäräinen's excellent performances is obvious. This will be a new challenge for me.”
Return to Poland for Bilova
Nadiya Bilova is the new Women’s Head Coach in Poland, taking over after Tobias Torgersen’s one-year tenure. Bilova is a familiar face for Poland’s biathletes. She previously coached the national team from 2002-10 and most recently guided the juniors including two-time 2018 IBU YJWCH Gold medalist Kamila Zuk. Bilova, a former Ukrainian biathlete had two coaching stints in Ukraine over her two-decade coaching career. According to Polish Biathlon President, Dagmara Gerasimuk, “Nadiya has already worked with us for many years. We know her and we are also appreciative of her work with our youngsters over the past years.”
Prokunin to Head Ukraine Women’s Team
Andrei Prokunin, most recently Head Coach for Korea will take over as the new Women’s Coach for Ukraine. He succeeds Uros Velepec. Prokunin’s contract with the Korean team ended making hi, available. In making the move to the 39-year-old Russian, the federation commented, “We realized that with the language barrier and the different mentality, a Western coach was not optimal for us.”
Uros Velepec Back in Slovenia
Velepec, who guided much of the career of Jakov Fak and most recently his Pyeongchang 20K individual Silver medal (Fak trained with Ukraine women last year), is slated to resume his title as Head Coach in Slovenia after a four-year stint in Ukraine. Velepec’s return will reunite him with Klemen Bauer and the rising young female star Urška Poje.
More to come…