Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Back in mid-September, Ole Einar Björndalen and Darya Domracheva moved from the retired athlete ranks to the coaching ranks. Björndalen became the Chinese Head Coach while Domracheva signed on as the Chinese Women’s Coach.

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Hard Job; Working Together

Less than 18 months after ending their competition careers, biathlon’s power couple is on the other side of the scope. Domracheva admitted, “I did not expect this 180 degree turn so quickly. From the total life picture, this is the only chance for me to try myself in coaching, because here are only a few more years to travel together before our daughter Xenia goes to school and later it would be impossible to combine this.”

Taking the job was no snap decision for Björndalen.

“I was approached almost two years ago. I thought it could be interesting, but studied and discussed this with many people. I think I got six or seven proposals before I took the job. It took some time. You need to feel that you have the trust completely. We have that now, but it is a really hard job to coach a team from another place. For China, they want some success and the time is very short. It is a job Darya and I can do together and like when we were athletes, focus on it 100%.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Challenges
Continuing, “This is a dream job, because I loved my sport as an athlete. I cannot say I love my career as a trainer yet; you need to be so creative and develop every day. There are challenges all the time and you need to handle so many people (30) with a different culture, but these fantastic athletes appreciate what we are doing.”

Just days after taking the coaching jobs, the two went with the team to China for a month-long training camp. Björndalen was enthusiastic about China’s potential. “There is a lot of work to be done. The Chinese have little experience in biathlon but are very eager to learn and build things so fast. The Olympic venue is not yet done, but we hope it will be soon so we can train there.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Transitioning
The coaching couple had some help transitioning: Coach Tobias Torgersen from Norway and former French Shooting Coach Jean Pierre Amat had been working with the team for a while. “It was quite helpful to learn from the Chinese side and from them about the individual athletes and their personalities.” Domracheva added, “But many of them are also new, so it was important for us to dive in and explore for ourselves.”

Feelings and Emotions
Working across the language barrier through translators is part of everyday life with the Chinese team, according to Björndalen “It gets easier every day. The athletes do not speak English much but they understand a lot. The hardest part is understanding exactly what the training is and expressing feelings and emotions that come with the activity. That is really difficult; it is almost impossible to get a reaction. Sport is like art; you need this emotion. If you do not have that, it is a challenge. We use a lot of body language: to see how they react and move.” Domracheva sees this in the women’s team. “I can tell the difference after training; some are totally dead and some are tired, just normal feelings after training. These are sensitive moments when you need to learn about each individual athlete.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

“Many ways to the goal”
The rookie coaches use their personal experience and their personal coaches to create their team’s training program. Björndalen considers it a hybrid , “not a Norwegian or Belarusian or German program, a combination; I use a lot from my old trainer who died a few years ago…It is good that we did biathlon many years, because we know many ways to the goal.”

From the Other Side
On the women’s side, “We know biathlon as athletes and now are seeing it from the other side. It is so interesting to take some things from your career and bring them to the athletes… I had the big advantage to work with Klaus Siebert and Alfred Eder who were very systematic and I take things I learned from them.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Waxing Team Assistance
Bjorndalen knew the Chinese team would be at a huge disadvantage in ski preparation, so he formed an alliance with the Norwegian Federation to provide assistance in this crucial area. “We had no chance to build up a waxing team. First it would cost a huge amount of money and we are so close to the Olympics (in China). It would take 2-3 years; there are so many high-level wax teams in biathlon. If you are not among the top five with your wax team, it is really hard to be close to the top 10 (in results). With this cooperation we can get experience and learn much faster. I really trust the people and how they work. If you want to get to some place in 2.5 years; you need people you can trust.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Developing and Training
Snow training in Sjusjøen last week is part of a long process. “It is a long step to get to where we want. This will be a really hard season for us, but we need to develop all the way and not think about race, race, race. It is training all the time. We need to develop the team and learn.” The Women’s Coach agreed, “Each competition will be a very important every athlete.” “We are in a learning process, not in a competition focus yet.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Modest Goals
Accordingly, the Head Coach’s goals are modest. “The women’s best last season was 27th. We need to do that at least…A top 10 in the women’s relay would be quite cool! For the men, catching the pursuit would be quite good, but you never can tell. It is all about how fast the athletes develop. I do not really care too much about results now, because I know where I need to bring them.”

Continuing, he added, “As a team, they are strongest in shooting, and weakest in skiing. Some have better capacities but need specific ski training…I think we can bring them up quite fast.” Domracheva seconded, “Some are better than others, but in general they learn quite fast.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

First Competitions

The first competitions in Östersund will be exciting for these rookie coaches. The veteran of 580 World Cup starts said, “I am not sure how I will react. When we do some hard sessions especially important training, I get absolutely excited when I see how they struggle and fight. To see that in a race would be fantastic. If they give a full effort; that is enough. If they do not fight, we will not be so happy.” Domracheva looks at it differently. “I would not like to be focused on the result but to keep focused on progress and development.”

Ole and Darya: Coaching the Chinese Team

Not Too Hard
Thinking about the transition from athlete to coach, Bjorndalen reflected on the new road the couple is travelling. “I can be both calm and excitable. I was quite calm the first period, but I am more direct now because the season is closer and I know them better…My challenge to myself before I became a coach was that I was afraid I would be too hard. If I only do exactly what I think, I would be too hard.” With a smile, his wife added, “Here is where I help Ole keep balanced; not too hard on trainings and not too soft!”

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