Franziska Preuss is a name often associated with the idea of a very unlucky biathlete when it comes to setbacks. The 29-year-old German suffered from various health issues and injuries ever since her first seasons at the top of a sport that witnessed her first big individual medal when she was only 21 years old at the World Championships 2015 in Kontiolahti. With the big motivation of the BMW IBU World Championships on her home soil, Preuss tried to chase her best shape for this event, but she was forced to end her season before Oberhof 2023.
A few months later, after taking time to reset from one of the most difficult decisions in her career and, after a much-needed break from the sport, she feels as motivated as ever.
“I’m feeling good right now,” she admitted in the midst of her summer training: “I’m happy to be back training with a good and ‘normal’ feeling. Of course, the restart in spring was tough, especially the first hard sessions, but it is fun to feel the process and I’m satisfied with my training.”
Although still not 30 years old, she rejoined the team as the veteran presence, after a few goodbyes at the end of the past season.
“It’s true, there was a big change in our team, so it was a little bit strange feeling to be finally the oldest girl after 10 years in World Cup… But yes, that’s life!” She added with a smile that did not hide her determination: “One thing is always the same, though, we want to train well and be in a good shape in winter.”
The motivation of reaching the World Championships at home in your best shape is what drives athletes for years. Preuss, however, had to come to terms with the reality that did not favour her hopes.
“The whole decision was a process: the time between January 2022 and January 2023 was a really big challenge with my health and my energy level. I struggled a lot with sickness, which took away so much energy. For this reason, on one hand, it was super hard to finally call it a season this past January, but on the other hand, it was also easy because my body sent so many signs that something was not good with me. Sometimes you must be honest with yourself and so I had to accept that I was not able to do biathlon at the level I wanted.”
“So, the priority was definitely to care for myself; I was proud of myself to have taken this decision. The process was much harder than to think about skipping the World Championships in Oberhof.”
Once the decision was taken, Preuss immediately knew she needed a break. It was not just the body that asked, but her mind too. The two difficult seasons demanded a big toll, and the German took the opportunity to finally do things that her long career had never allowed her to.
“I decided to go to Thailand for a real change of scenery, during the World Championships. It was a perfect decision to see different culture, people, etc. I was very surprised how easy it was not to think about biathlon. No one cares about winter sports in Thailand! I saw that the world just keeps spinning and I enjoyed this time at the fullest.”
But not just holiday - once home, Preuss spent time with her dear ones to find the roots of her passion.
“I spent a lot of time with family and friends, we went alpine skiing with the kids, cross country-skiing together, we had crime-dinners… I celebrated my birthday at home with friends for the first time in more than 10 years! Also, the social media detox felt so good, just living in the moment. Biathlon was so far away; I haven’t even watched a biathlon race last season. This break was really important for me as a human and as an athlete. It gave me a lot of energy”.
The 29-year-old, unfortunately, had experienced forced longer breaks from the sport in the past, so she knew how to pace her return to full-time training.
“The first weeks after deciding to skip the season, I was not motivated for sport, it was just ‘nice’ to allow yourself to accept that it’s okay to feel tired and without energy. I had this feeling since the previous autumn, but there I worked mentally all the time against it. So, I think I had a sports break of about five weeks, then I started with easy running or skiing, but only without a watch! Just as long as it was fun. And at the end of March, I felt that I wanted to do more and more sport. And yes, only then I started to work with a plan for a new stable base with mostly low-intensity training.”
Now it is about giving herself the time to get back into shape.
“For the next months, my goal is to get used step-by-step to more intensity. I know that I’m still on my way to work for my shape. I’m looking forward to wearing a bib again at some summer races. My next goal is to get my ticket for the World Cup again in November and then we will see!”
Despite all the setbacks and injuries, Preuss feels like she is where she wants to be. All the difficulties of the past years and the breaks from the sport helped her realise this is what she is fully focused on.
“Maybe this is my character to never give up. I think also my family gives me a lot of support and good vibes. I still have dreams in biathlon and they motivate me. But of course, it’s a lot of mental work to stay optimistic.”
However, the German had a chance to try a few different things in life lately, including building a house together with her partner Simon Schempp. Such experiences could have an influence on what she will do the day she hangs up her rifle.
“During our ‘house building’ project, I had a lot of fun with planning and seeing all the different possibilities. Maybe something in this direction (could interest me in the future), but now I’m 1000% focused on biathlon and my career as an athlete. And there is still enough to do!”
It is not so common to find such sheer and pristine devotion to a passion, so here's hoping Preuss can stay injury-free and enjoy as many seasons in biathlon, motivated to keep chasing her dreams. Biathlon fans will surely welcome her back as soon as she claims that ticket to the BMW IBU World Cup.
Photos: Preuss, Reiter/NordicFocus, IBU