IBU 30 Years: On the Shooting Range with Siegfried Mazet

Siegfried Mazet, the man behind the scope who guided France’s Vincent Jay and Martin Fourcade to Olympic Gold medals and most recently the Gold medal bonanza of Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe and Co has been in biathlon since the earliest days of the IBU, first as an athlete and now for the past 16+ years as arguably the best biathlon shooting coach on the planet.

Changing the mindset

When Mazet moved to from mentoring the range fortunes of the French team to Norway in 2016, he was faced with a double-edged sword: a very successful group of biathletes, but one that was, in reality a group of excellent cross-country skiers whose focus was not on the range. The challenge was to change the mindset, transform them into thinking like biathletes. “It took me a long time to change the spirit. I feel now after the past three or four recent seasons that there is kind of a culture of the biathlon spirit. It was important they saw things in the big picture. Of course, you have to go fast on the skis and shoot well. It is not just the combination but the mix of both. If you want to be successful, you have to see your opponent and what they are capable of. There are many different factors you have to take into account: thinking ‘now my skills are good at this and this but at this I have to be better.’ You need this tactical aspect in how you approach every competition. This was very important in working with the guys.”

Evolution in Biathlon

That complete picture is a guiding principle for Mazet since his days as an IBU Cup competitor and coach in the IBU’s infancy. Thinking how much the sport has changed, he commented, “There has been development on the technical side of skiing, the material, the speed of shooting has developed. If you look back to 15-20 years ago, it was a bit more old school, first hit the targets. Now people take more risk, like my guys and Emilien Jacquelin who are shooting very fast and aggressively, putting pressure on others. I really like this especially in the mass start, pursuit and mixed relays; it is really exciting! I am very happy that the IBU created more of these races. Of course, we need the traditional sprint and individual, but these other races are the real show. That is what the people love, a 45-minute show with everything going on at the shooting range. This has been the real evolution in biathlon.” Mazet feels that events like the Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival are setting the tone for the future. “I like Martin’s festival as a show; it is fast and accessible for fans. That is one of the keys for development in the summertime.”

Lesson from Raphael Poirée

In the early 90’s, Mazet trained with the French legend Raphael Poirée, learning a very important lesson that he’s never forgotten. “I remember this very well. Raphael said, ‘Every training is a competition and every competition is a training. It is exactly like that. If you train like you are competing, them you improve.’ Many athletes ask me how they can improve and after asking some questions, I find out they behave so differently between training and the race. If you put on a bib and behave differently than in training, you will fail every time.”

Mentors: “When they spoke...always the right words”

Although guided by basic philosophies, the 45-year-old continues to evolve as biathlon has throughout his career. “The coach I am today is different from the coach I was 10 years ago. If Martin or Simon (Fourcade) saw how I am coaching Johannes or Tarjei, they would be surprised at how different I am today.” Still a big part of his coaching skills came from his French colleagues almost 20 years ago. “I must say that my mentor was (French Women’s Shooting Coach) Jean Paul Giachino. When I started with the French men, both he and Stephane (Bouthiaux) were very experienced. I learned from both of them but mostly Jean Paul; they were always quiet but when they spoke, it was always the right words. You have to listen to others; never forget what the guys before you said.”

“More chances to fail than succeed”

Coaching like every skill is a never-ending education, picking up ideas, improving and even discarding some along the way. Still the affable Mazet sees himself as he same person he was years ago. “I think I have not changed over the years, not different than when I started. Of course, I have more experience. I have this philosophy from day one as a coach that I still have today. I have the same point of view about sports in general and especially my sport biathlon; I love, well maybe not love, but like the sport and others feel this. I have this philosophy from day one: what makes you better is your opponents. Sometimes you fail and then you get better. When you compete in sports, you first have to realize that you have more chances to fail than to succeed.”

Most talented ever?

Siegfried Mazet’s career has worked with three biathlon legends, spanning the IBU’s 30-year history: Martin Fourcade, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and now Johannes Thingnes Boe. Asked about his most talented protégé ever, he replied, “Sturla (Holm Laegreid) for example is very talented. Johannes is talented but in a very different way than him or Vetle (Sjaastad Christiansen) or Tarjei (Boe). I think back to Martin who was very talented in standing but prone was so difficult for him. Quentin (Fillon Maillet) got nothing for free; a talented worker but not naturally skilled. As work skills go, it goes to Sturla, Quentin and Martin; they all worked hard to get to a super level. In terms of natural skills, no question it is for sure Johannes Thingnes Boe. At one point in his career, Johannes did not train with the rifle for several months and apologized to me for not shooting. Yet that first day in camp, you could not tell that he had not been shooting. He was so good; that is natural talent.”

Never satisfied with status quo

Even with all his success over the years, Mazet like is never satisfied with the status quo. “I told the guys at our first camp this year. We had a super season last year, but now it is over. The others will get ready again; they will change things and try things. Maybe it will work or it will not. I see these younger guys like (Niklas) Hartweg and (Tommaso)Giacomel, I know they will be successful. We will be under attack; we just need to get ready for anything, but it is good. I am looking forward to a good fight!”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Igor Stančík, Bjorn Reichert

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