30 Years IBU: Christophe Vassallo, Technical Committee Guiding the Sport

IBU Technical Committee Chairman Christophe Vassallo’s biathlon career has run parallel with the IBU for the past 30 years. Vassallo competed on the World Cup circuit in the early to mid-nineties, moved into coaching and then management at the French Ski Federation (currently National Biathlon Coordinator) after that and was elected to a position on the IBU Technical Committee in 2006. When it comes to the competitions, rules, venues and all of the hidden details that make biathlon such an exciting sport, Vassallo is the man with the answers.

The 55-year-old Annecy resident is a man who never makes rash decisions concerning the sport that he loves. Every decision and move from him and the TC is carefully thought through, “I look at it with a list of pluses and minuses,” yet at the same time, readily reexamines something if it turns out to be not quite right. Think single mixed relay, a competition that went through several incarnations before the current popular format was finally added to the IBU World Championships in 2019.

Mixed Relays, “we are exemplaire!”

The mixed relay and single mixed relay, brainchildren of the IBU TC are groundbreaking formats that changed not just the face of biathlon but sports such as athletics, cross-country, cycling, swimming and the sliding sports. “I must say not all of our ideas have been good, but that is the strength of the IBU. We do not sit with what we have, but are proactive in the evolution of our sport. The pursuit was developed so the athletes would compete together, face-to-face. The mass start was next with the crème de la crème starting together, a spectacular competition added to the Olympic programme…that highlighted what biathlon is, skiing and shooting.”

“Then we have the mixed relays. That is what I really like about working in biathlon. We have this intelligence, an open mind. On the topic of mixed events, we are exemplaire! When we see how many sports have followed the road we opened, we again were exemplaire! We can really be proud of this. The funny thing about this was that it was not a political decision. It was not proposed to show the world; it came strictly from the heart of the Biathlon Family. It was something natural.”

“Today it is a show!”

Vassallo is not amazed but very pleased with how the sport has evolved over the past 30 years. “With television, the image that we provide is a beautiful picture. It is a big difference from the time of my career when we were a little lost in the forest, implementing shooting ranges temporarily for just one competition. It is clear the rules we set up and the combination of (the IBU, Organising Committees, television and others) made biathlon successful…It is nice what we were able to do, create this drama which was not the case in my time…Today it is a show.”

“Keep the athletes in the center”

According to Vassallo, over the years the philosophy behind the TC has not changed from its stated purpose: “to develop the technical rules for the sport of Biathlon and for its clothing, equipment, and competition facilities…” Still, some things have changed. “Because of the development and interest in the sport, there are a lot of considerations working with all of the parties around biathlon. For example, sustainability was not topic 16 years ago and today is something we have to consider. Some ten years ago, we needed to cut down the size of the fields to help TV shorten the broadcasts and we introduced the start quota and worked this out. Our goal is to preserve the sport and keep the athletes in the center.”

Safe and fair competitions remain at the heart of the TC’s work but adaptability within the Biathlon Family keeps the system work smoothly. “Most of the rule changes have been to maintain or secure this and the health of the athletes in terms of the number of competitions. It is important that all of the athletes take part each week, not just compete ala carte. This is important to our fans…Teams and athletes have been great when we have to adapt to different conditions like when we compete in the Olympics or in Asia. All of the parties understand and this combination works well.”

Staying a step in ahead

As for more new competitions, Vassallo admitted these possibilities are part of “a toolbox, in case, to be prepared. We do not want to be caught asleep, not be reactive but be a step ahead of what will happen. We created the super sprint thinking it might be a good addition to our menu (of competitions), but we waited some years before implementing it. We tested, changed it, reconsidered and will look at it again. It is good to have a big list of competitions and we are prepared. At the same time, we have some of our other formats that maybe can be improved. It is very important that when a fan turns on the TV, the competition is easy to understand so we do not lose their interest.”

Summer Show Events

The development of summer competitions has been a part of the IBU’s agenda since its birth and remains a point of discussion. Vassallo sees the show competitions like Blink, Wiesbaden and the Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival as a real plus for biathlon, without the loss of crucial summer training time. “These show events are great, because it does not interfere with training. It is one moment with a small field with different athletes. It is great because it is a show, what the people want. I am in favor of this; it is a great opportunity to test new things that could be brought to the sport in the winter. It is not only the biathlon competition but what you do around it, like athlete presentation at the start, new technologies and presentation of the awards ceremonies.”

“The door is always open”

The bottom line for the Technical Committee when it was formed 30 years ago is the same as today for Christophe Vassallo and his group, which now also includes an athlete and a coach: keeping the sport moving forward. “Our philosophy is still to give equal chances to every nation, large or small. That is very important to me; it is part of my nature…The door is always open for discussion. At the end of the day, there is a certain respect for knowing decisions come not from the sky but after a lot of analysis and monitoring. We are lucky that our system is functioning fine.”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, IBU Archive

Share this article

Header iconSign up for our newsletter