Getting to know … Maya Cloetens

Maya Cloetens has had an exciting year. In just one season, she went from the IBU Junior Cup to the IBU Cup to the BMW IBU World Cup and the Biathlon World Championships in Oberhof. In Belgium, she is considered a biathlon pioneer and wants to help establish vegetarian nutrition in competitive sports.

What attracted Maya Cloetens to biathlon was the mental challenge of combining skiing and shooting. Like many athletes, she started out as a cross-country skier in her hometown of Grenoble. At the age of 15, she switched sports and has been carrying a rifle on her back ever since. Just two years later, she showed herself on the international stage for the first time. She returned from the European Youth Olympic Festival in Sarajevo in 2019 with a silver medal in the mixed relay. A year later, she won the gold medal in the relay at the IBU Youth World Championships. The success gave Maya the motivation she needed to keep pushing herself in training every day.

New start in a new team

Cloetens holds dual citizenship and in 2022, she made the decision to start competing for Belgium. Biathlon is a marginal sport in Belgium. The federation is much smaller, there is less money for equipment and coaches. I doubted at the beginning whether it was the right decision." Her move was turned out to be the right one. She likes the family atmosphere in her new team and sees a lot of development potential for the future. "Many young athletes started biathlon in Belgium. I hope I can be a role model for them."

Season in the fast lane

In the IBU Junior Cup, she was dominant on skis in December 2022 and earned five podium finishes. In the new year, she then went to the World Cup in Pokljuka, the Open European Championships in Lenzerheide and the World Championships in Oberhof. "That was just crazy. In December I was still a junior athlete and then I was on the start line in Oberhof. My eyes lit up, I was so happy to be able to experience that." Her best individual result: 38th place in the sprint with clean 10/10 on the range. "The spectators in Oberhof were extraordinary. In my first race in the mixed relay, I was still really impressed by the crowd, as I had not experienced that before." However, it was not enough for a medal at the IBU Youth Junior World Championships in Shchuchinsk (Kaz). Cloetens ended the season with her first World Cup points, in 36th place at the sprint in Oslo. Again, a flawless race.

Meatless diet and competitive sports go together

The cliché that competitive sports and a vegetarian diet do not go together is refuted by Maya Cloetens: she has removed meat from her plates since she was 14 years old. "I am convinced it is better for my health." She does not just give up meat for health reasons but also sees it as a way of protecting the environment. She does have to plan her diet carefully when she travels, she says, to ensure she eats enough protein, but by now she is routine at it. Since she loves to cook, it is not a burden for her. She also talks to raise awareness about meat consumption with other athletes: "I notice that many of my colleagues are slowly changing their thinking. I think that is a good development." Because nature and the environment are close to her heart, Maya Cloetens is an IBU Sustainability Ambassador, promoting climate-friendly sport.

Injury cannot stop her

For the upcoming season, the 21-year-old has set her sights on taking part in the entire World Cup schedule. To pull this off, she is relying on mental training. That, she says, already helped her succeed last winter. "There are a lot of races coming up. I hope my form is so good that I can keep it up." During summer preparation, a mountain bike accident briefly set her back from her plan. "After my surgery, I had to take a break and regenerate. But I am confident that I will not have any disadvantage from the injury in the winter." To recover from exhausting competitions and training, she plays the piano. She is happy about every hotel where there is a piano. Her favorite song is "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. To relax, she takes out a pencil and paint pictures. Besides sports, Maya Cloetens studies mathematics and physics at the University of Grenoble. She is interested in architecture and can imagine working in this field after her sports career.

Photos: IBU archive, Maya Cloetens

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