Hartweg’s last season on the IBU Junior Cup circuit was just about as good as it could get, with five victories and four additional podiums. His only disappointment was missing the podium at the IBU YJ World Championships in Lenzerheide. A season after, he bounced between the IBU Cup and World Cup, finally landing a full-time World Cup spot last season.
A learning year on the top circuit has made a world of difference this year. In the first three weeks of the new season, his shooting accuracy has jumped to 90% (from 83% a season ago). Hartweg has not finished lower than 21st in any of the individual competitions this season, compared to last year when he only had one result (17th Antholz 20 km) close to that.
Hartweg’s ascent started in August when he won a Bronze medal in the IBU SBWCH, with a single penalty, just 27 seconds behind Sebastian Samuelsson. But it was the summer work under a new coaching staff that helped Hartweg step up his ante.
“The summer after the Olympic season was quite different. We had new coaches, both in shooting and cross-country. The first part of the summer was a little complicated because we had to get to know the coaches and vice versa. After that, we figured out a good way to work. It was a really productive summer. I hope we will continue to work well in the coming years and close the gap to the top athletes.”
Hartweg put the SBWCH medal aside as it was just a step towards the winter. “After that, our coaches said, ‘now we start new and have to stay humble, keep training and do the basics.’ That was the key: to do the basics and good training up until the season.”
However, the season-opening Kontiolahti 20 km individual was where the rising Swiss star leapt to becoming a World Cup contender, shooting clean and finishing second. At the time, he was speechless.
"It has been so much at once…It was my first time shooting four times zero. I knew the skiing was relatively solid and the shooting rhythm well balanced."
He thought things might go well this season.
“The first podium in Kontiolahti helped me to see that the shape was really sound. I felt good coming into the competitions, but you never know. I think the podium, the course time, and the shooting gave me confidence.”
That day built the confidence he carried throughout December.
"After I cleaned the last targets (that day), I was super happy. I knew it might be the day when I could reach for the stars.”
“My main goal for the season was to be consistent. And so far it has been working out. Consistency is the key to the Total Score; that is why I can hold the sixth position now. The races after Kontiolahti added to my confidence, showing me that it was not just a “lucky punch” but that I can compete on a high level.”
Looking back now, Hartweg credits his time in the IBU Junior Cup as crucial to his BMW IBU World Cup success.
“The IBU Junior Cup was an important part. The older athletes who did not have it had a bigger step to conquer coming into the World Cup and IBU Cup because they did not have those professional races at a young age. The difference between the Junior Cup and the IBU Cup is not that big. It is just that everyone around you is faster!"
"In the Junior Cup, you get used to doing many races in a week, being away from home, and competing with athletes from other nations. I got lucky competing with other good athletes my age which is also good now. It helped me on my way.”
With his strong start to the season, Niklas Hartweg knows that “reaching for the stars” is easier than ever. Yet he remains modest in his goals for the rest of the season.
“It would be nice to fight for the Blue Bib, stay consistent, and see what’s possible after Christmas with some good training. Staying in the top 10 or 15 in the Total Score until the end of the season would be great.”