Stina Nilsson’s New Passion: Biathlon

In March 2020, Stina Nilsson surprised the Nordic ski community, moving from a highly successful cross-country career to biathlon rookie. Eighteen months later, the self-motivated and passionate Nilsson approaches each day with a simple goal: to improve. “Just the feeling that I am moving forward and am better; that is all I need.”

Nilsson, with a medal-filled resume is the most heralded cross-country skier to move to biathlon. Think four medals including the Individual Sprint Gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, backed up by two Gold and one Silver medal at the 2019 Nordic World Championships, plus 48 podiums and 15 individual and team cross-country wins between 2012 and 2019.

Swedish Champs “enjoying the last lap”

With a half season on the IBU Cup circuit and a couple of BMW IBU World Cup starts under her belt, Nilsson’s first big “test” this summer came in early August at the Swedish Summer Championships in Sollefteå. She came up big, taking the National Championships sprint title over the Oeberg sisters, keyed by an “ah-ha” moment, a 5-for-5 standing stage. “That was actually my first time enjoying the last lap in that way. I always wanted to have something to go for in the last lap, because always before I had too many mistakes. It was totally new for me; I had so much more energy. I would like to do that many more times!”

Biathlon Roller Coaster

As for winning, “It was more than I expected. I had many more mistakes shooting the day before that I did not even count them. It was just perfect for this time of the summer.” In the next day’s pursuit, reality again struck, as the sprint champ picked up eight penalties. “And that is exactly how my training is. It is not only on competitions that I can have bad and good days. I am really used to that roller coaster.”

“Starting all over again”

Ups and downs are the story of Nilsson’s 18-month biathlon adventure. “I did expect it to be really hard and…it is. That is kind of why I did it. I did not want everything served on a plate. I wanted to fight for it. That has been up to my expectations. I am really enjoying the journey. I love to develop; just go up every morning and train for something that I want to be better at. It really suits me. I am glad that I did it.” She compared it to starting cross-country many years ago. “It’s the exact same feeling. It is like starting all over again, being new at something. learning something new every day and having new people to look up to. It is really motivating.”

New Feelings

Before taking up biathlon, Nilsson only knew biathlon from television but respected the sport and realized the differences between it and cross-country. “I have always had a lot of respect; they are two completely different sports with different physical things that you must do before you can do the sport at a good level. I expected the last year to be really hard, getting to know the sport. Having only seen biathlon on television, I had no idea what it felt like; what it was like to compete, to do a last lap or a first lap. I just knew that I needed to have as many competitions as I can last year, so that I would know what I must be better at.” The list of things that she needs “to be better at” is “long and gets longer every day. Every training day I see something that I want to be better at.”

Why She Changed Sports

The decision to take on a biathlon “to do” list was not something Nilsson had planned for the pinnacle of her career. “I have always been curious about biathlon. In Pyeongchang, the xc stadium was next to the biathlon stadium. I thought then, ‘I know I am going to try biathlon sometime in the future.’ I did not decide this five years ago that I would do cross-country until 2020 and change. It just came to me I think, after experiencing Pyeongchang and Seefeld in consecutive years. Those were so successful and I had so many great emotions that I felt like I could not experience anything bigger than that. I wanted to try something new. That was the motivation.”

Passionately “Living my dream”

Reactions to Nilsson’s decision were supportive, especially from those closest to her. At the same time, others were left shaking their heads, mainly because they did not know what really drives her. “It was all good, but many people were (emphasizing) SURPRISED! ‘What, are you kidding!’ All of my close people were, ‘go for it. You should do it.’ Those who do not know me and what keeps me motivated, maybe just see me as a successful cross-country skier. They thought I should keep on doing that because it gives a lot of money and sponsorships, blah, blah, blah…Money has never been a motivator for me. It is all about passion for me. I need to have a life where I feel like I am living my dream. For a long time, it was cross-country but not anymore.”

Teammates and Coaches

Nilsson’s warm welcome to her new passion by teammates and coaches made the transition easy. “My welcome into this biathlon family has been so good. We do everything together and I really enjoy this situation. The coaches are so calm and they give me so much energy. I love this environment they have built up.” One coach stands out. “Jean-Marc (Chabloz). He is the best. It is so easy to say after one bad day, ‘I am so bad at this, I will never be better.’ It is really good to have someone who can see the whole picture. He knows that I can be on this level one day, and another the next.”

Positive World Cup Experience

Reflecting back on her first cup of coffee i.e., the two BMW IBU World Cup starts in Oestersund, the 28-year-old emphasized, “It was really good for me to experience that, because if I get the chance to be in a World Cup again sometime…I have done my premiere and know how it works. It was really good, because the week before I shot so bad with seven penalties in ten shots (at Obertilliach). My confidence was not so good when I came to Oestersund. But I had one mistake in ten shots which was so good to see: I can have a really shitty week and then I can pick myself up and do much better.”

Moving forward and happy

That 26th place in her first World Cup sprint (and 22nd in the pursuit) boosted her confidence. After another six months as a biathlete, Nilsson is “exactly where I wanted to be in my development. As long as I feel I keep developing every single day, I am more than satisfied. Maybe one step today, two tomorrow, half step after that. As long as I keep moving forward, I am happy.”

Photos: IBU/Jerry Kokesh, Harald Deubert, Christian Manzoni; Svensk Skidskytte/Per Danielsson

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