Getting to Know: Said Karimulla Khalili

Russia’s Said Karimulla Khalili has only been in biathlon for less than six years, yet has made his mark as a rising star, winning medals at every level since his international debut at the 2016 Lillehammer Youth Olympic Games. This season, he stepped on the podium once again in his first-ever IBU World Championships running the leadoff leg for the Bronze medal men’s relay team.

Tennis to Biathlon

The 22-year old was born and grew up in the Moscow region, where he lived with his parents and older sister. In the area just northeast of Moscow city center, his first sport up to the age of 14 was tennis, “I was a not-so-bad tennis player, but today I have no time,” as his life revolves around biathlon. Still, on the rare occasion, he has time to play a round of golf. Yet, after tennis, it was not biathlon that occupied his time, but cross-country skiing “which I did for two years. Then I had a chance to try biathlon. My coach said I should try it. For me it was more interesting than just skiing. Being a biathlete in the city where I live in the Moscow region was a problem. We do not have any biathlon schools here; that was why I was mostly a skier…We also only have only two shooting ranges for the whole area… But I was lucky when I got together with my biathlon coach Elena Agarakova who is still my coach today. She lives just 14 km from me…and a shooting range is also not so far away."

YOG: The Beginning

The 2015/16 season was pivotal for Khalili. He was selected for his first international competition and won the YOG Pursuit Bronze medal. “Before that season, I was not a very good biathlete. That summer, I decided that I needed to spend a lot of time shooting. That season was very important for me. The YOG were my goal for the season. Only two athletes from each country are selected, so I knew this was going to be very hard. When I had my ticket for Lillehammer, I was very happy. When I took my first medal there, I thought it was only the beginning of my career. It was really the beginning because after that, I won a lot of medals in the Youth/Junior World Championships.”

Pursuit and Relay Fan

Khalili has been on the podium in both the sprint and pursuit in the IBU YJWCH and IBU Cups, but there is no doubt which discipline is his favorite. “Pursuit, because it is a contact race. It is more interesting because you can run after somebody. It is not an easy race, but it is very interesting not just for the athletes but also for the people watching.”

Throughout his career, the young Russian has been most successful in relays, with three IBU Junior World Championships Gold medals and most recently the Bronze at Pokljuka. Traditionally, he either runs the leads off or anchor leg. “I like both especially anchor. Now it is a very high level in the World Cup and we have some stronger guys on our team, so now the first leg is the best for me. I like the battle there.”

Calm at Pokljuka

Of course, leading off at his first-ever IBU World Championships was a new experience, one that actually did not phase one of the youngest competitors in Pokljuka. “I was not nervous. I do not know why. We trained a lot in Pokljuka so it seemed like home. I also had some races before the relay. The individual race was really good. I was in good shape and I knew the first leg would be no problem for me to have a good result. So. there were no nerves.”

Four Zeros

He was not surprised by his clean-shooting flower ceremony sixth place in the 20 km individual. “The result was a surprise but the four zeros were not. I had four zeros before in the European Championships. In my head, I thought that I could do it one more time. But after the European Championships, I was only fourth place with four zeros, I thought that in the World Championships, I would not be in the top ten. But my shape was good and got the sixth place that was really good.”

World Cup Lessons

Although Khalili has the sixth place and the Bronze medal from the IBU World Championships, he is a relative newcomer at that level. Accordingly, he has learned and grown a lot in those19 starts. “Race planning was my biggest lesson. The speed is higher in the World Cup than in the IBU Cup or Junior Cup, so you need to have a good race plan and concentrate. When you run with faster guys, you need to think how to not go so fast early and keep your power for the last loop; tactics are very important in the World Cup.”

He noted the difference between the top circuit and the two feeders, IBU Junior and IBU Cup. “In the World Cup, many guys shoot very fast. On the junior level, it is not so important to shoot fast, you can have some mistakes on the shooting range and shoot not so fast but are fast on the tracks, you will be at the top…On the World Cup, you need to be the best runner and the best shooter; run like Martin Fourcade and shoot like Simon Eder!”

Ole and Martin

That comment brought up this rising star’s biathlon hero, which was no surprise. “Bjorndalen and Fourcade. My biathlon career started when Bjorndalen was at the top of biathlon. I first liked biathlon because of him. But later, Fourcade had such a high level that he impressed me. He had so many great races; I learned a lot of lessons from him on tv.”

Goals

Despite his ongoing success, Khalili can not rest on his laurels, especially if he wants to meet his personal goals. “Of course, I need to train a lot this summer because everybody is training hard for the Olympic season. It is important for me and everyone. I have no room for mistakes and it is very important to be healthy.”

"Goal-oriented, calm, kind and happy”

In just a few short years, Said Karimulla Khalili has gone from non-biathlete to a consistent medal winner at every level of the sport with the potential to match his biathlon heroes. Talking with him, it is easy to see why he is so successful. This smart, thoughtful biathlete has gotten to the top of every mountain with a personality he describes as “goal-oriented, calm, kind and happy.”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Rene Miko, Evgeny Tumashov, Said Karimulla Khalili

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