Funny, determined and always in a good mood: that's Elia Zeni. He grew up in Trentino-South Tyrol, so the connection to winter sports was clear. He started cross-country skiing as a child and even as a young boy, he was fascinated by exercise in the fresh air. At the age of 14, he encountered biathlon for the first time. A club from his home region organized a trial training and biathlon was fun for Zeni right away. He liked the variety between running and shooting and eventually decided to change clubs. "I liked the sport from the first moment," says the 21-year-old.
Zeni made his first appearance on the international stage in 2020 at the Youth Junior World Championships in Lenzerheide. Already there he proved that he is a specialist in the relay. Without a single reload, he showed the best performance of his team at the shooting range. In the end, the relay team finished in eighth place. His greatest success to date then came two years later. At the 2022 YJWCH in Soldier Hollow, USA, the Italian team won the silver medal. Zeni took on the anchor leg successfully and secured the podium place for his team. This success is certainly also due to the good team spirit in the Italian team. "I feel very comfortable in my team. We are friends and always try to motivate each other." But Zeni has not only found friends in his own team. He also enjoys spending time with Ludek Abraham from the Czech team.
At the age of 21, the young Italian has already made a name for himself in the IBU Junior Cup. In the 2021/22 season, he finished in third place in the Martell individual. Fast forward to the start of the Junior Cup 22/23 in Martell and he was on the podium in all three competitions. While he was able to secure third place in both the sprint and the mass start 60, he even managed to win the super sprint. Races on home soil seem to suit him and his consistent performances earned him a starting place in the IBU Cup team. He immediately secured a 16th place at his sprint debut in Ridnaun. In the pursuit, he finished 15th and could have gone further if he hadn't missed three targets in the last shooting. "My goal is to get into the World Cup. Whether I can already do that this winter, I don't know. But I will work on myself every day and hope to develop further." No matter if it's this year or in the upcoming years, being at the World Cup start gate in Antholz is a goal. So far, Zeni has only competed in national-level races there. Nevertheless, the biathlon mecca has fascinated him. "I trust Elia to run in the World Cup in two to three years," says his coach Pietro Dutto.
"My goal is to get into the World Cup. Whether I can already do that this winter, I don't know. But I will work on myself every day and hope to develop further."
Even though he has now decided on biathlon, Zeni’s idol comes from cross-country skiing. Norwegian superstar Petter Northug exudes a special fascination for him. "I am impressed by his mental strength. I know very few athletes who were as ripped off as he was." Elia Zeni takes his cue from the Norwegian Olympic champion and always tries to motivate himself, even in tough training sessions. His motto: The pain you feel today will be the joy you feel tomorrow. For him, biathlon is a painful sport, but that is precisely what makes it so appealing.
When Zeni doesn't want to think about biathlon, he sits at the piano. That relaxes him and lets him sort out his thoughts. Maybe that's where he gets his peace and quiet at the shooting range. Otherwise, the 21-year-old has a hobby, he shares with many others his age. He likes to watch series. His favourite? Sex Education on Netflix.
Pictures: Deubert + Reichert/IBU