Lena Repinc was one of the main protagonists of the IBU Youth and Junior World Championships in Obertilliach last winter, having left Austria with 4 medals in her age group, two of them being a golden double in the sprint and pursuit. The 18-year-old today, still 17 at the time, had just had her first main tour experience, an overwhelming debut at the IBU World Championships on her home soil of Pokljuka. But that experience helped and inspired her to reach the YJWCH, willing to perform at her best. Aside from her medal haul, Repinc also picked up multiple Top 10-results in the IBU Cup last winter.
That being said, the Slovenian was not always an exuberant athlete and passionate hard worker. Her love for sport and biathlon grew steadily over the years and it was strongly influenced by a great atmosphere in the young and bright women team of her country. In this late-summer chat, Repinc talked about all of those moments, herself and what she hopes for in the future.
Last year you made your main-tour debut at the home IBU World Championships in Pokljuka. How did you experience that first time?
"The news hit me completely out of the blue, I was shocked when I found out I was going to compete with all of my idols, but in a good way, of course. I think that competing there made me a better athlete because I went beyond all my limits. Competing with elite athletes simply gives you extra strength and power you never knew you even had. The atmosphere was incredible, it was unlike any other race I've had so far. I think it’s because everyone there truly believed in themselves. They were all hungry for medals, they just had to do what they’ve done a thousand times before."
Is there anything that you learned or even left you surprised about those two weeks in Pokljuka?
"What surprised me the most was the bond that those athletes have. Even though they are rivals on the tracks, they are such good friends and are genuinely happy for each other. The scene that I remembered the most was when Lena Haecki crossed the finish line on the Individual race, she did quite well that day, however, she didn’t wait in the finish area until the end to see her final result, but she immediately went on the course to cheer for Selina Gasparin who was in an even better position. That shows how well they get along as a team and how supportive they are of each other. She left her lungs out there on the course as she was cheering so loud. That is something I want to achieve in our team."
Then, Obertilliach came and you went away with 4 medals, 2 of them golds. Did you think anything like that was possible?
"I definitely didn’t expect to leave Obertilliach with 4 medals. I knew I stood a good chance to get a medal, especially in the relay, but I didn't even dare to dream about something like that. Actually, I went to Obertilliach doubting myself and my abilities. I was scared I guess, scared that everyone there was way better than me and that I would mess everything up. But I guess that’s somewhat normal as I am always really stressed and nervous before any race.
But then I just told myself that I was as prepared as I could be at the time, and I was so focused on my performance I didn't even have time to overthink anything. I simply believed my words and went all out.
There are no words that could describe the feeling that rushes through you when you stand on the podium and listen to your national anthem. It’s even better when you can share that feeling with your teammates."
What did that week teach you? And what's one memory you take with you from there after a few months?
"I guess what I learned was that most of it is just in your head. If I went competing doubting myself, there’s no chance I would have achieved what I had. If you believe in yourself, if you truly believe you can win, then you can, but if you doubt yourself, then there is no chance you can show others what you are capable of.
Among everything I am the most grateful for all of the friends I’ve met there. The medals I won there don’t cross my mind every day, but friends do."
From social media, it looks like the younger generation of Slovenian women formed quite a strong and united team. How important is such an environment in your personal growth?
Having a good team is one of the most important things in my opinion. That makes you excited for training because it’s always fun. If you have a team you don’t get along with, then you start to connect the bad atmosphere with the sport itself and you don’t enjoy it as much anymore. At least that’s how I see it. And when you are surrounded by good company, it is way easier to mentally recover after training, which means you can perform at 100% on the next one. There is also a good measure of competition between us - which speeds up our improvement.
Outside of biathlon, who is Lena Repinc? What are your passions and hobbies?
In the summer you’ll always find me chilling by the lake. I love swimming so I'll spend every minute I possibly can right there by the lake, either reading a good book or hanging out with my friends. In fact, the first thing I do in the morning is going in the water for a quick swim just to wake up. And I love the fact that I am always alone there in the mornings because everyone else is still sleeping, so everything is so peaceful and quiet, unlike later in the afternoon when there’s so much hustle.
And I love cooking and spending a lot of time with my dog. My other hobbies are also snowboarding, ski mountaineering, drawing and cycling. Cycling is my favourite form of summer training. Travelling is also something I enjoy. My dreams are to travel around the world one day.
Who is your biggest sports idol?
Jessie Diggins is my number one idol. She is such a nice person and I admire her approach to training and competitions. Her bond with the team is also unbelievable. Basically, she is my idol not just in sport but also in everyday life and I hope I'll get the chance to meet her one day.
What is the thing that made you fall in love with biathlon?
It’s actually not a story you would wish to hear I guess. I wasn’t always keen on training biathlon. In fact, I wasn't keen on training at all. Lena means lazy in Slovene and as a kid, I truly embodied that. All I wanted to do was watch cartoons on TV. And I also loved watching biathlon, but it always seemed too demanding for me. However, my dad was a coach in our local club so it was expected of me to start training. Before I even started training, I went on two races and I was the last one which wasn’t really encouraging. But as I started training, cross-country skiing slowly grew on me. Of course, having beautiful skiing tracks right across the street helped with that, because I could literally go skiing whenever I wanted. Then, when I finally started shooting when I was old enough, I fell in love with biathlon. I’m not sure what I liked about shooting so much, maybe I just found it cool or something. I’m just happy I tried it, because now I can't imagine my life without biathlon.
Repinc is now heading to Nove Mesto na Morave, where she will compete at the IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships, testing her form and the hard work she has put with her team over the summer. Then, she will be looking at the next winter, where she wants to keep surprising herself and the world.
Pictures: Björn Reichert/IBU, Lena Repinc