A breath of fresh air was brought to the Italian biathlon team last year when 20-year-old Didier Bionaz and Tommaso Giacomel joined the experienced team of Dorothea Wierer, Lukas Hofer and co.
Giacomel surprised them all on the day of his debut when he finished within the top 30 of the BMW IBU World Cup sprint of Nove Mesto na Morave in 2020, becoming the first ever 2000-born to score points on the main tour. Bionaz got close to the top 10 last winter with a 13th place in the Individual of Antholz.
The two close friends shared all the big steps in their respective careers, becoming a sort of unlike set of biathlon twins. Despite their differences, the coaches see a bright future for them, while the present has been made more exciting also for the veterans, thanks to the carefree and easy-going attitude of the two youngsters.
To be in a team with three amazing athletes, but also beautiful people, like Doro, Luki and Dominik is an endless source of inspiration. Doro is like a mum to us, because she cares.
How it started
The two 21-year-olds took different roads to arrive in biathlon: Giacomel comes from a valley in Trentino where only recently a small shooting range has been built and only discovered biathlon after joining the sports school of Malles-Venosta. Bionaz, who oddly enough was born in a town carrying his very name, lived next door to a range and fell in love with the sport from a young age. Eventually he joined the Gruppo Sportivo Esercito, to which he is grateful for making biathlon his job. The two met when they finally started competing on a national level.
“I have known Didier ever since I started competing in the Italian Cup”, explained Giacomel: “I remember very well that ‘_bocia’ (young and reckless guy), _because he was very tiny and thin! I think we became buddies almost immediately because we get along very well”.
“I remember that by the end of that very winter we started talking so much to each other because we were both so passionate, not just about biathlon, but about sport in genera_l”, went on Bionaz: “**_We became friends very soon, but I would have never guessed that our careers would be going on such parallel lanes**, because we ended up making each step in our careers at the same time. It is something I cherish a lot, because I am sharing with him, a friend, all the emotion and experiences of my career”.
From a Youth World Championship relay medal together, to the first taste of the BMW IBU World Cup in Nove Mesto na Morave in 2020, the two became inseparable.
The World Cup Debut
“I have to admit that it has not been like I dreamt of it”, said Giacomel about the day he first wore a main tour bib, finishing in a strong 27th place. “The seats were empty and everything was so surreal, given that it was a World Cup stage, in Nove Mesto, with those massive stands… but it was so cool to meet all of my idols. I will never forget when in the mixed zone Johannes Boe and Quentin Fillon Maillet congratulated me for the result in the sprint… also because I was dead tired!”
Bionaz did not have such a roaring beginning. Nonetheless, he made a good appearance and keeps good memories of that weekend: “It was very emotional, possibly even more when I was told I would be taking part in my first World Cup. It was very unexpected too, because I had only taken part in one IBU Cup stage and it was my first season as a Junior. It was such an unreal experience to be there, skiing next to athletes that I had been watching on TV up until two weeks before. I remember a moment during my second competition of that weekend, the relay, when we were second at the final exchange and I was standing next to Johannes Boe, who wished me good luck… it really meant a lot to me”.
Who are “Tommy and Didier”?
“On a sports level, both are highly talented and extremely motivated”, explained their coach Andrea Zattoni going further than the high-quality results that both have been capable of producing already: “What makes it so easy to work with them is that they have no fear and can sustain heavy loads of training because they are so eager to improve. At the range, Didier is a bit more “thoughtful” with his shooting, while Tommy is a bit more carefree, but both showed that they can do extremely well and I can see that they are learning a lot from each other”.
But how about outside of the biathlon tour?
“On a human base, they are great friends and good people. If I had to adopt two children, I would not hesitate to take them! They are a bit different, of course: Tommy is a bit more impulsive and emotive, while Didier is a bit more timid and more reserved,” he concluded. We then asked the two friends to describe the other with just a handful words.
“Didier is… always late, never on a hurry, but unique”, joked Giacomel, who then was poked back by Bionaz.
“Tommy is… the gentle giant. Because he is tall and big, but kind-hearted”.
Training with stars of Italian biathlon
“I have to say the group has been so welcoming from the first time we joined them”, revealed Bionaz. “We integrated very well and I believe we are just one big family now”.
Zattoni, who trains this group together with head coach Andreas Zingerle, is extremely satisfied with the impact of the youngsters in the team, seeing this as a beneficial influence for both the newbies and the veterans.
“When the youngsters joined, they brought some good carefreeness, not only during the trainings, but also outside. Then obviously, during the sessions, it was a mutual stimulation, both on the tracks and at the range: for example, Tommy (Giacomel) has some incredible abilities on standing shooting, and I can see how this is influencing Luki (Hofer) and Didier (Bionaz).
In return, they are learning a lot from our experienced champions, most importantly for me, how to use the time outside of trainings. This is fundamental for high level athletes and obviously something that juniors need to learn”.
Giacomel is also very happy about this situation and he admits both Bionaz and himself are always asking for advice or soaking in everything the talented generation of Italians they joined has to offer.
“To be in a team with three amazing athletes, but also beautiful people, like Doro (Wierer), Luki (Hofer) and Dominik (Windisch) is an endless source of inspiration. Doro is like a mum to us, because she cares and for example, when we bike together she always tells us to go slow downhill, to be wary and not to get injured!
They all have taught us aplenty, but especially to be patient, because at our age it is normal to get pummelled from time to time when you train so hard like we do. It is about trusting the process, ourselves and all the people who are helping us on this journey. I think we are a great training group, we get along nicely and every camp is such fun!”
Strong of their young age and a family-like group around them, Bionaz and Giacomel will have the time to mature and develop as athletes. Obviously, with the Olympic Games coming up next winter, their goal is to qualify and fulfil every athlete’s dream to compete under the Five Rings. They are well aware, though, that there is no haste to emerge and that the next cycle is leading to Antholz-Anterselva in 2026.
Photos: Manzoni, Tumashov, Thibaut