Johanna Talihaerm’s First Camp Impressions

The last week of May brought the Estonian team and their new coaching staff together for the first time as they set out on the journey to the new BMW IBU World Cup season and Beijing 2022. Johanna Talihaerm and her teammates kicked off the training season at their home Tehvandi Sports Center in Otepaa with two weeks of rain, sun, hard work, new faces and a few laughs along the way.

Experienced, Not Old

The 27-year-old Talihaerm, among the “veterans” on the Estonian Team came to the new camp like everyone else, not knowing exactly what to expect with former Belarusian Coach Fyodor Svoboda taking over the reins and several juniors joining the training group for the first time. “I like to call myself experienced, not old…I have been on the team for a long time because I started when I was very young (first World Cup start at age 18). The juniors bring a new perspective to our team and even some new jokes. I remember when I was here for the first time, how afraid I was…and did not know how things work, worried the coach would be mad at me for this or that. I am trying to support them, telling them to ask questions to the new coach.”

Svoboda, “really cool to have him”

Talihaerm knew a bit more about the new coach than most of her teammate. As the Athlete Representative on the Estonian Federation Executive Board, she got to talk to him in the hiring process. The team heard glowing reviews from others about Svoboda who became the small nation’s first big-name international coach. “It is really cool to have him. We are a really small country and needed to bring in that knowhow from the outside. His accomplishments were really impressive; but also hearing positive things from other coaches and athletes he worked with was really reassuring.”

Ask Questions

Yet it was not exactly a quick smooth takeover for the new coach. Some initial travel problems delayed his arrival in Otepää by three days, so the assistant coach stepped in. “We heard that he was delayed which added some tension as we waited. Then just meeting him really helped the transition. Our assistant coach Daniil Steptchenko is Russian/Estonian and a former teammate so they communicate really well. That relaxed things and made him (Svoboda) feel at home. Still our working language is English…One thing he said at first was, ‘Please ask me questions. I really appreciate that you want to know.’ That has been really good because some things are really new and we do not understand right away… still, he did know some of us from just seeing each other on the World Cup. Even though we were just meeting for the first time, we are all part of the big biathlon family…It has been a good camp.”

Packing for Camp

The transition from the more relaxed life at home over the past two months back to the more structured team/camp life was a small shock like any other year. “Camp has been really busy with training and meetings, besides some personal things that you have to do, but it has been good. For me the hardest part was just packing my bags. I was just so happy to be at home in one place, but then packing my bags was ‘okay, we are going back again.’ I am not afraid of the routine. I like to have structured day; it makes you feel productive. Leaving home was hard, kind of like going into the unknown.”

She admitted to a bag-packing miscue that is “kind of embarrassing but funny. I forgot my “scrunchy bag (filled with hair ties), so I got here and was looking for pieces of fabric.”

Camp Routine

The camp routine was pretty typical. “I get up at 7:30, go out for a morning run, do some stretches and then eat breakfast. We start shooting at nine and the routine is different. We do not start with drills, and zero after. We really do not shoot for results, just for grouping and exercises; that has been different. Then it is physical training, lunch break and second training, dinner and a lot of meetings with coaches. Organizational stuff and some shooting in the evening. We’ve done live firing in the evening when the weather is good, because we live so close to the range.”

Although the first camp days were wet and cold, it did little to alter the training plan. “It was really wet. One day we did skip shooting because it was a complete downpour and we would have frozen because it was not that warm.”

“Women just better” on shooting range

One thing the new coach instituted was an internal shooting competition between the men and women and an accompanying travelling trophy. “I shot once before camp and it was pretty bad. But in camp shooting was better and I won the first travelling trophy. So far three separate women have won and the men once…the women are just better! It is like ‘boys, pick it up!” The girls are totally fine keeping it. It has been a fun little competition.”

Shooting Tip Makes the Difference

Personally, Talihaerm is working hard on her shooting. Although she ended last season with a clean-shooting sprint at Oestersund, it was just the second perfect day of her World Cup career. “I have analyzed my shooting from last year and the main issue was that I was not self-confident enough. I was doubting myself…That is something I need to work out in my head.” On the coaching front, “You know sometimes someone gives you this little tiny tip and it changes everything; making you feel so much more confident. For me there have been a few little things (to help me). One is looking at the target really intensely before shooting. It seems like nothing but for me, it has been a game changer. It helps you get a better position and you can find the target faster.”

Mountain biking is among the things on the camp menu. “There are a lot of roads that are not paved and do not see much traffic. They are really good for mountain biking; not so technical so not dangerous. There is also a new mountain bike trail here at the sports center; it is more technical and a bit much for me.”

Setting the Tone

First training camps are special and important for both learning and bonding. “It sets the tone and the expectations for the year. First we are getting to know each other, not necessarily the team members who have been together for years, but the new coaching staff and juniors. It is a new system with the coaches. We are setting goals; what do we want to get out of this year. It is the time when we all get together and start over. It is an especially fresh start for us with the new coaching staff…like a breath of fresh air.”

20 Meters to a Fill-up

Like any other camp, there is always room for a laugh as someone’s expense that takes all of the tension and seriousness away for a minute. “Without using any names, I heard the story that someone was driving their car and ran out of gas…20 meters before the gas station. No comment.”

Beijing 2022 Focus

The long journey from this first camp could bring Talihaerm her third Olympic Winter Games appearance. “I still do not believe I am a two-time Olympian. There is a kind of status that comes with that and it is still kind of new for me…It has been an adjustment because I do get recognized. Now, I do not just want to make it. I want to have a result there that I am happy with. That is more in my head than just making it (to Beijing 2022). It is not about a specific place, but I want to be confident, ready, in good shape; all those process goals.” 

Now that first camp with all of the changes and adaptations is over; Johanna Talihaerm and her Estonian teammates are on their way to the new season. 

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Johanna Talihaerm

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