From the 2013/2014 season until the 2018/2019 season, JT Boe tried to challenge Martin Fourcade as the undisputed Master of Biathlon of his generation, and for five years, he kept coming up short while learning hard but valuable lessons.
In the meantime, three things created the deciding shift that made JT the superb champion he is today:
1. The arrival of French coach Siegfried Mazet
2. A lesson learned from Fourcade (and Mazet)
3. Lessons masterfully applied
Siegfried Mazet and understanding data
Siegfried Mazet left his native France, took over as the Norwegian coach in the 2016/2017 season and started to teach his new students the secrets of the battle of margins. He showed JT and his colleagues the data that showed most of the team at about 84% accuracy in shooting; Fourcade was at 88%. It was clear what JT had to do. But it took time. “We were not so good during the first year of working together in 2017, but the year after, he started to perform way better. From the first year till now, Johannes never stopped working on himself and improving: he became a better and faster skier, his shooting accuracy rose significantly. He learned to behave and to accept the consequences. He became a better version of himself,” said Mazet.
JT had a fantastic 2017/2018 season by anybody but Fourcade’s standards. JT won Olympic gold in the individual at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games while Fourcade won two. He won nine times at the BMW IBU World Cup and finished second and third four times each while Fourcade also won nine times, but had eight second-place finishes and three third-place finishes. In what turned out to be the finest season of Fourcade’s career in his own words, the Frenchman never finished worse than third in the 2017/2018 season. Furthermore, JT collected 1027 points to Fourcade’s 1116; he won 51.35 points per competition, an incredible achievement in itself, just to have Fourcade top that with 55.1 points per competition, a record to this day.
But JT learned to behave like a champion that season. In a conversation for biathlonworld.com at the end of August 2020, Mazet said in retrospect, “I remember the sprint in Kontiolahti 2018; Martin was sick and Johannes had a big chance for the Yellow Bib. He shot like a maniac in standing, missing twice; with one he would have had the Bib. It could have changed the story for the season. That day, we had a long talk; I told him he had to be stable. When you want to be the best in the world, you cannot let these things happen. I said, ‘You said you want to be one of the best in the world, so behave like the best in the world.’ After that, he changed his way of thinking. For me, from that day, he had a clear goal and knew what was expected.”
While getting older, and with JT improving by the week, Fourcade was suddenly forced out of his comfort zone and had to adjust his strategies. He also over-trained before the 2018/2019 season while JT started to apply lessons learned in the manners of a new Master.
“With the years, it has become easier not to think so much about what I have achieved. In the past, when I achieved something, I was happy, and I didn’t focus so much on the future but on celebrating my victory, looking back and being proud of myself and spending energy. Now it’s different for me. Let’s imagine that you go to the store with a shopping list. You take the things you need, put each of them in the bag and write a check mark on your list. Then you move to take another thing, not thinking about your ‘last victory’; you continue to your next one,” said JT Boe in his Total Score winner’s interview for IBU Magazine 51 at the end of the 2018/2019 season. He finished that season with a record-breaking 16 wins (plus three second-place finishes) while shooting with 85% accuracy and skiing at -6, or on another planet compared to the rest of the field. JT collected 1261 points for his first Total Score title and won 54.9 points per competition on average. In other words, he won almost every competition he entered.
Before the 2019/2020 season, JT knew he would skip (at least) two weeks, because his unborn baby boy Gustav decided to say hello to the world in Trimester 2. Somehow relaxed because of that, JT started the season with a blast, winning five out of seven competitions in Trimester 1, although he admitted after the sprint in Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, where he finished fourth with two misses, that he approached zeroing before the sprint too casually. What caught JT by surprise were the first two fabulous weeks of Trimester 2 for Fourcade, who shot almost 100% and won four competitions in a row. The Frenchman admitted that he felt back in control, for there was no JT to set a horrendous pace from the first meter of the competition. JT had a clear equation for when he returned to the tour: to win as much as possible and see what happens. In the end, he won 10 competitions out of the 17 he took part in and finished second twice and third once, winning two silver medals and one gold in the individual competitions in Antholz-Anterselva 2020. JT Boe won 913 points for his second Total Score title while shooting with 89% accuracy (second only to Fourcade for the season) and skiing at -5. While his skiing dominance wavered on a (very) few occasions due to the pressure from the very competitive French team, JT kept his prone and standing shooting at 89% accuracy. With Fourcade gone, JT starts the season as the fastest skier and the most accurate shooter in the field.
This will be the first season that JT enters as an absolute favourite and with no special events that could demand his time, such as the birth of a child, planned on the horizon. He needs four more titles to tie the great Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and five to match Fourcade. It is a very lonely challenge for those who shape history.
Photo: Christian Manzoni; IBU Photo Pool