Fast forward to Oslo 2022, thoughts of retirement floated through the Slovak’s mind, but suddenly on March 19, twenty of twenty targets closed in the women’s pursuit, ending a two+ year podium drought. Recalling that competition. “I do not remember the last loop, just the last shooting. The previous day in the sprint, I missed that last standing shot. So, at the last standing, I was like, I did not want to do it…hesitating a little to pull the trigger. But I knew I had to stay quiet; better to work slower than faster. I had it under control, was focused on every shot; hit all the targets. When I did it, I was very happy. After that, I remember nothing, but I think that was my best race ever. I was very proud of myself because I broke the bad luck.” Fialkova’s huge smile said it all.
Getting to that bad-luck-breaking podium took a mindset change. “Those two years were very hard with the ups and downs. But one day, I realized that like if not just about biathlon. I stopped judging the quality of my life by results. I am a happy person with a really good family so life is not just about results anymore…Family first always and I am healthy, have good friends and am enjoying life outside of sport. The important thing is that I changed the things when I was so bad and started to grow again…I am definitely a stronger person than two years ago, especially mentally.”
That podium was just a piece of the puzzle that convinced the now 30-year-old to stay in biathlon. “I was thinking in January about what I should do. The important thing (that deferred retirement) was that I took control, making my own training schedule. I stepped away from the system of what we were doing before the season. It worked and I started believing in myself again. After the Oslo result, I was given the chance to continue on my own path and took it. I am again enjoying the whole process. In the past few years, I was pushing so hard that I forget to enjoy the good things that sport brings to me, like nature, the good hotels, wellness…everything. It is much easier now. Of course, some days I think I do not have the energy to go on, but on most days, I realize (this lifestyle) is not so bad!”
Although Oberhof 2023 is a non-altitude Championships, Fialkova spent lots of time this year like other years in thin-air spots like Antholz, Livigno, Passo Lavazè, and Zakopane. “I like altitude training and always do a lot of it. I decided this year to go back to the trainings that I made me successful. I needed someone who I could believe in. I was a little lost without my old coach Martin Bajicak; I looked for someone to replace him and did not. So, I had to start believing in myself. I looked at my old training diaries and made camps that will work best for me.”
Thinking about her penchant for altitude training, Fialkova recalled her best training day of the summer. “Classic rollerskiing up to Grossglockner; part of a training camp in Obertilliach. I was alone because my sister was having some back problems. It was just me, my husband and the physio: nice weather, nice people cheering me along the way and it was not as hard as I remembered from eight years ago. I had pizza and beer after and took a picture at the same place as the last time. It was so nice, but maybe because it was the last day of the training camp that it was so nice!” Describing a perfect recharging day or week after hard training camps is easy for the 30-year-old, “It is lying on the beach somewhere, having some drinks, good music and friends.”
That day in Austria and her total getaways on the beach are the balance Fialkova needs to have more days like the Oslo pursuit: a combination of hard training and outside distractions that distract her from biathlon. “I need to be in good physical shape to be a top athlete. I cannot manage shooting well without being in good shape but also need to do something besides sport. I am better when I can do things like this.”
Reflecting on the first nine months of 2022, the Oslo podium and more recently an IBU SBWCH Bronze medal she added, “With biathlon you never know. I started 2022 like a good athlete at a high level and will work hard to keep that … I am very hard on myself. I’ve always been hard on myself and can be that way with the others. But I am still trying to be a gentle lady… Regarding my private life, it is definitely my year! I got married and we bought land and are planning to build a house. Many good things have happened.”
No one will be surprised if 2023 is as good as 2022 for Paulina Fialkova… or should we say: Paulina Batovska Fialkova.
IBU/Christian Manzoni, Paulina Fialkova, Giulio Gasparin