Tiril Eckhoff never gives up
Almost exactly a year ago, Tiril Eckhoff couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of bed for a few days. Yes, she did have the best season ever seen in the BMW IBU World Cup, but it had ended with a missed opportunity in the last shooting of the season when the Total Score looked like it was hers but turned out it wasn’t. The disappointment over not winning any individual medals at the IBU World Championships Antholz–Anterselva 2020 was also big. But there is one thing about Eckhoff that is easily overlooked, for she comes across as an easygoing and very open person: she never gives up.
It was getting darker when the women started the pursuit in the second week of NMNM just a few weeks ago, and Eckhoff was overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Things couldn’t continue to go her way, surely not for so long. She was tired. She felt something would snap, but it turned out that didn’t happen. She won her sixth pursuit of the season and 12th individual competition of the season and, though she didn’t know it yet, her first-ever BMW IBU World Cup Total Score title. Despite the whirlwind of high-paced beats that normally surrounds Eckhoff’s persona, she was above all deeply humbled and grateful for her continued streak of winning form and good fortune that finally tilted her way and supported the underlying talent that nobody ever questioned but Tiril herself.
“Today I am really happy because I started to have negative thoughts and I got the better of them. What I did today was really good biathlon. I started fast, so athletes behind would have problems catching me and then I shot really well although I didn’t ski that fast anymore. These negative thoughts are part of my brain, they come and go. I just had to fight with myself and I showed that it is possible,” said Eckhoff in the aftermath of that pursuit win while the algorithms were running: they went through all the possible winning combinations ahead of the last three competitions at the Season Finale in Oestersund and then finally and officially confirmed that she did indeed win the Total Score title.
“I am in ‘The Zone’ and I just have to be thankful and appreciate that it happened to Tiril Eckhoff one day as well.”
The most fantastic sport
Her brother Stian is 11 years older and an ex-biathlete himself. As a young girl, Tiril thought there was nothing more exciting than biathlon. “I thought it was the most fantastic sport. It was endurance, it was mental, it was technical and kind of entertaining as well. I fell in love with it as a young athlete.”
It is exactly this fascinating combination in biathlon that plays tricks on most biathletes, even the greatest ones at times. Eckhoff lived through the whole range of emotions in the scope of one year. She reaped the grandest of rewards in the 2020/2021 season while the pain was biggest in the 2019/2020 season. She won three individual medals, two of them gold, at the IBU World Championships Pokljuka 2021; she won six medals altogether in Pokljuka, just one fewer than Marte Olsbu Roeiseland in Antholz–Anterselva 2020.
On the same day that she lost her would-be maiden BMW IBU World Cup Total Score title in the 2019/2020 season in Kontiolahti, she won her maiden BMW IBU World Total Score title in the 2020/2021 season in Nove Mesto na Morave. And it was in the opening two weeks of the season in Kontiolahti that—with the help of her family, friends and coaches—she accepted that the 2020/2021 season would take place during the pandemic and that the measures in place wouldn’t allow for a normal social life on the tour but would assure that the season remained safe. Just like that, Eckhoff forgot about her 67th and 43rd places in the first two competitions of the season, finished eighth in the second sprint and won the first pursuit of the season shooting 20/20.
“I guess I just started to hit some targets,” said Eckhoff, still unhappy about the fact that she needed to eat all her meals in the solitude of her hotel room.
In a good place in Hochfilzen (again)
With travelling in the 2020/2021 season reduced to a minimum—as all locations held two-week competitions apart from Antholz–Anterselva and the Season Finale in Oestersund—Eckhoff’s return to Hochfilzen, where she hit her first-ever 20/20 a year ago, strengthened her momentum. She won twice and finished second twice in five individual competitions and knew she was in a good place.
“I feel I am in a good place. We can finally share meals in small groups; as a very social person, I feel some normality. It also shows in my biathlon,” she said.
Eckhoff spent Christmas in a cabin with her boyfriend, ate well, trained enough and above all, was comfortable in her skin. Returning from the break, she won the first three competitions of 2021 in Oberhof and recognised among other things that her coach had finally persuaded her to believe in herself more.
“He told me many times that I have a rare ability to win in the sprint even if I miss once. And that this fact will give me confidence. I guess I can see that he had a point,” said Eckhoff after her 9/10 win in the second sprint in Oberhof. She won seven sprints in the 2020/2021 season, five with 9/10.
Eckhoff opened the IBU World Championships Pokljuka 2021 with a win in the mixed relay, knowing that she was continuing to have the form of her life. She won gold in the sprint and in the pursuit, added silver in the single mixed relay, another gold in the women’s relay and bronze in the mass start after she stormed through the last lap, coming from behind and getting the better of Olsbu Roeiseland in the last meters of the final sprint.
“I am in really, really good shape and as always, I had very good skis, so it was a dream to get to the last lap and see the other athletes getting visibly tired. I was very eager to get a medal today. I am riding a good wave, and then it is easy to shoot well. It was really hard in Antholz last year. I got some medals in the relays, but it was really hard in my head because I didn’t manage to shoot well. I guess that disappointment made this World Championships possible because I was so eager to manage it better. I never give up and that brought me six medals here,” said Eckhoff, who also got hold of the Yellow bib in Pokljuka.
Four for four in NMNM
While most athletes were searching for their last reserves of energy and some kind of new inspiration after the long build-up to Pokljuka 2021, Eckhoff just kept her feet on the ground and her motivation high. She won both sprints and both pursuits, surpassing Tora Berger’s 11 wins in the 2012/2013 season. She clinched the sprint and pursuit Total Score titles and most importantly, the BMW IBU World Cup Total Score title, the ultimate recognition of her talent and hard work.
“It is a little bit insane and a little bit emotional. I am super happy. It has been quite a journey. I am just proud. I didn’t believe it would be happening because the last year was so hard. There is something with me; I never give up and I am very willing to do the boring stuff in training. I always do a little bit more. This tastes good,” said Eckhoff, with the coveted Crystal Globe in her hands.
She won 1,152 points in the 22 competitions that counted towards the Total Score (out of 26), or 189 more than Olsbu Roeiseland in second place. In fact, Eckhoff was so dominant that her 17 podiums alone (13 wins, three second-place finishes and one third-place finish) would have won her the Total Score title, for they added up to 990 points.
Photo: IBU/C. Manzoni