Coaches' Corner: Sandra Flunger

In less than two months, the Swiss team will be in the spotlight, competing in their first-ever home BMW IBU World Cup in Lenzerheide, just over a year before their home 2025 IBU World Championships. Women’s Coach Sandra Flunger hopes the team will continue to improve and be prepared for the challenges ahead.

2022/23: “Quite a good season”

As the team wrapped up a 10-day camp in Ramsau, Flunger reflected, “We had quite a good season last year after struggling in the Olympic season. (Three women in the World Cup top 30 and 6th in the Nations and Relay Cups, up from 8th the previous season). We made a good step forward but there is always room to improve in skiing and shooting, as well. Our main focus is always to work hard. The (World Cup) level is getting so high that we have to hit all the targets, in a quick way. So that was a little focus during our summer preparation, but also on skiing.”

The Ramsau camp wrapped up dry-land training for the Swiss after a summer of one camp a month in their home stadium and a few forays to other venues. “We were on the (Dachstein) Glacier exactly zero times because the warm summer left no snow on the glacier. In Ramsau, we focused on the rollerski track and the tough entrance to the shooting range.”

Blending Youth and Veterans

The Swiss women’s team is an interesting age/experience blend of 23-year-old Amy Baserga, 22-year-old Lea Meier, cross-country Olympian Lydia Hiernickel and veterans 28-year-old Lena Haecki-Gross, and 29 and 31-year-old Aita and Elisa Gasparin. Building a training program for everyone, “is not so easy. We now have the best coaching staff we’ve ever had in Switzerland and work together very closely. It is possible to do some things individually, since we do not have that many athletes. We have to work together and hopefully keep every single athlete healthy going into the winter after no big issues this summer.”

Individual Needs and Team Spirit

According to Flunger, the athlete’s individual needs are always a consideration. “It depends on the individual. They all know that they can knock on our door any time, if they have special issues. We always have time for this and are ready to listen.” Like any experienced coach, she can sometimes tell an athlete needs some extra support. “The longer you work with someone, it is easier to know when someone is struggling. It is not always easy to tell; some hide it better than others. But if there is a good relationship between the coach and athlete, they know they can always come with any problem they have.”

Good coach/athlete relationships are part of building morale and team spirit. “Since the Olympics, we tried to get our team closer than in years before; the men and women do the same camps. Things like playing football, working in the gym or playing mini-golf on off days gets the team closer together. We have quite a good mood in our team now.”

“A win-win situation for Lisa and my Swiss girls”

Flunger thinks having IBU World Champion Lisa Theresa Hauser with the Swiss women at several camps throughout the summer was beneficial for both sides. “Lisa is very grounded, with both feet firmly planted on the floor. She knows that she needs to improve. It was a win-win situation for Lisa and my Swiss girls. I was especially happy for the Swiss team, because they saw that you do not have to do anything special, you just have trust in your strengths to do good races. The older ones saw (good races) are not so far away and maybe will think they can be on the same level. That is the most important thing for all of us.”

The Swiss, although a small team have found success in relays and continue to strive for the podium. “It is not getting easier, because women’s biathlon is quite close and competitive. Nearly every nation has one or two athletes who win World Cup races, which we do not have. But we know if everyone does their best, (a podium) is possible. We need the perfect race, but I think we are not so far away and will keep trying.”

Key to Home Success

Experienced with the pressure of a home World Cups and World Championships, the veteran coach from Austria feels the one key to success in these upcoming events, “is to have fun; you have to enjoy this (opportunity). You do not have events like this every year in your home place. It is most important to have fun. It is not easy, I know, but if you have fun, it is easier to show your best. We will try to prepare our athletes for these moments. It is good for us to have the World Cup this season, so the athletes get a little used to this. Most of them have never raced in Switzerland. A few raced at last year’s European Championships (including Single Mixed Relay Silver medalists Baserga and Niklas Hartweg). They did quite well for the first time. "

"The World Cup is the next step and maybe we can do as well there which then will help us enjoy the home World Champs…. Even though it is one year away, time is flying fast. Even if it seems far away (February 2025) is not that far off.”

Photos: IBU/ Christian Manzoni, Nordic Focus

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