Calling it a career… as a couple!

Biathlon couple Thomas Bormolini and Eva Puskarcikova retired recently, but each of them decided to do so on their own time and terms. The Czech came to her decision during the winter finally joining the farewell lap of honour in Holmenkollen. The Italian, on the other hand, wanted to let the emotion of the most successful season of his career soak in before making his final call. For both, however, it was fundamental to have the other by their side, helping and reasoning together around one of the most important decisions in the life of an athlete: when to call it a career.

BiathlonWorld: How did you come to the decision to stop being an athlete?

Thomas Bormolini: “The decision came step-by-step over time. At the end of an Olympic cycle, we athletes always take a moment to evaluate our journey, fix new goals and how to structure the work towards them, in both sport and life. I have always considered biathlon as a beautiful chapter in my life, but as such, I knew it needed an ending at some point. During the past year, I understood that at the age of 30 I wanted to do something else. So, it was a very natural decision to leave biathlon to focus on new projects and experiences.”

Eva Puskarcikova: “I felt that maybe it would be my last year already before the season, because the year before wasn´t already the best one for me. Yet, when the time is coming, and the season is finishing, there are a lot of ‘what ‘ifs.’ The decision to stop is very hard, because you have to leave your comfort zone: from that moment, no one makes a plan for you. It is a big challenge, after many years in high level sport! Every year, I was realizing that life for me was going so fast, every year faster and faster. It was really painful to continue just with hopes, while seeing that my body did not work anymore the way it used to in the past. So, to make it easier for me, I signed a deal with myself: if I had a good season, if I was in the shape to be able to fight for the top 10 with 0-0 easily, I would do one year more. If not, it was time to stop and start to do new things and new challenges.”

BW: When Thomas was also pondering his future, how much did you help him? What kind of support did you give him? And he to you earlier?

EP: “Thomas was also thinking a lot. But in the end, I was there to support him for everything he would have chosen. I have to say, that probably it was him, who was the strong one. My races at the end of the season in Oteppaeae and Oslo were just full of tears. So, he was a big support for me. He always had millions of tissues in his pockets! When the time came for him, he was so brave, and he didn't need as much support. I think at that moment, maybe he was able to see, better than me, that it is not the end of our lives. It’s just the end of something, but the beginning of something new!”

BW: How scary is it to leave the biathlon comfort zone?

TB: “To leave the comfort zone is not scary, but once you leave. you immediately realize how fortunate you were living the life of the athlete: all you needed to worry about was to train and try to reach your best level during the training and then peak in winter. Leaving this world means entering real life. Before, you live in a bubble and it is a golden one: the athletes’ life is very fortunate, so leaving it brings new challenges and therefore spices this new journey a bit.”

BW: Did you know already what you wanted to do after biathlon? How did you decide it?

TB: “I am among those who did not really know what to do after my athletic career and I am still unsure. Sadly, I did not study while I was competing; I think this is an unfortunate common thing, especially among Italian sportsmen, since you feel very safe as part of a military sports team. In reality, and especially if you want to do something specific or even just different from this path, you must invest some time on studying. For this reason, today, I do not have anything in terms of studying beyond a high school diploma and no work experience. However, I am planning to study to become a ski instructor and a first level coach in the immediate future. This will be a first step.

BW: Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of? Is there anything you would change?

EP: “I am not that type of athlete who was on the podium every week, but I am proud of every single time I accomplished it. Honestly, it's really hard! Even if I was just two times on the podium in individual races, I am thankful for that. I am glad that the finish line in the Pokljuka pursuit was not one metre farther, because otherwise, I think I would have been fourth. Having Marie (Dorin-Habert) behind you is really dangerous. Of course, our all our relay podiums were something amazing: many people are celebrating, it's beautiful. Our Women’s Relay Crystal Globe in 2015 was for me something unbelievable. If there is anything that I would change? I think every biathlete knows a lot of shots, he would like to shoot again and better.”

BW: What's the most pleasing thing about not having to worry about next season? And the hardest?

TB: “The most beautiful is the sense of freedom that you have. I wake up in the morning and decide what I have and want to do. Even though I keep an agenda and I feel like I will always be organized and systematic as I was as an athlete. However, I do not have to keep an eye on the watch when I feel like going for a run or some biking. Obviously, it is hard leaving your previous life behind: the people, the habits, the routine… it is not so easy to get used to this new normality without the training camps and the people around them.”

BW What does the future hold for you now?

EP: “The future for us now is an educating time: trying new things and mainly travelling and experiencing the world from places we have not been before. After the end of season, we visited Mauritius, did a Balkan tour with the car. After summer we are considering visiting Corsica, then a little bit rest and some days ago we booked tickets to go in Vietnam.”

TB: “In the immediate future, I will focus on the studies around biathlon. In the long term, I want to remain connected to the sport and have the knowledge to be a good candidate when a opportunity to work in biathlon comes around, maybe even within the IBU. However, in the next year will be about finding a good combination of relaxing and education. This also includes travelling, which has always been a passion of mine, finally doing it as a tourist and not an athlete.”

BW: Will we see you around biathlon soon?

TB: “I am very proud of being an IBU Gender Equality ambassador. It is something I am very motivated about. The IBU is doing so much for the after-career life, including camps and seminars, so I often check the availability of such courses. It would be great to be part of our sport’s development and its support for athletes during and after their racing days.”

EP: “We will see where destiny takes us. For sure I am still seeing everyone and now, after some break from biathlon and changing minds, probably we would like to stay somewhere close around.”

Photos: Manzoni, Miko/IBU, Puskarcikova

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