The conflict in Ukraine has affected everybody. The same goes for the athletes. It is very challenging for anybody to focus on day-to-day business in these difficult times. But then, all top athletes excel at one thing: to focus on the job at hand. Sport also has the rare ability to bring people together. And the friendships within the Biathlon family are helpful and comforting for everyone in this crisis.
The return to the regular world cup routine after the extreme highs of the Olympic Winter Games is never easy. Everything starts from scratch again, and every win or podium demands a lot of hard work. Quentin Fillon Maillet did just that in Kontiolahti. He is the most accomplished athlete this season. He has maintained his skiing shape, shooting accuracy, and mental sharpness on a very high level for three and half months. Quentin is a real fighter. He is also in the flow, a rare state of mind in which he knows how to make the best use of his resources on any given day.
To win a Total Score title, one needs to sustain a very high level of performance from the end of November until almost the end of March. It is an intense psychological process that demands a lot of determination and self-confidence. A few good races now and then are not enough to win the Total Score title, but the consistency does. Winning a Crystal globe is not just about winning. It is foremost about performing to the best of your abilities in every competition. This fight is over only when the season is over. In the 2016/2017 season, I took a yellow bib early on. For weeks I kept hearing that it was just a formality for me to lift the Crystal globe at the end of the season. I ignored that noise and just focused on one competition at a time. Throughout the whole four-month stress, an athlete also needs to stay healthy. I believe this must have been even more challenging in C-19 times.
Despite all the worrying news, it was exciting to see Stina Nilsson on the podium in Kontiolahti, with tears of relief and deep satisfaction for the job well done in her eyes. I saw many resemblances with Denise Herrmann there. Denise walked into the biathlon full of life energy and brought plenty of new impulses. She was very ambitious but also very hard working. Denise mastered shooting techniques astonishingly fast. Naturally, skiing training suffered in the early stages of the transition, when shooting got so much attention. The real test came when she had to show that she kept her skiing excellence and learned to shoot under competitive pressure in the world cup. Denise aced that transition.
Thoughts on Denise and Stina bring me to Vanessa Voigt, the most improved athlete on the German team. She joined the world cup team after her IBU Cup Total Score win last season, and she used training with initially stronger athletes very well. She took the challenge straight on and aspired to get better every day. Her strong competitive character shone through in Beijing 2022 when she bounced back strongly after the bitter disappointment in the mixed relay. It is almost impossible to single out one discipline or parameter when measuring her progress. Vanessa thoroughly became a better biathlete. She needs to keep her high shooting accuracy and make graduate steps forward in skiing. It is almost the opposite of what Denise had to do when she came to biathlon from cross country skiing.
I hope Vanessa will show more of her strong form in Otepaeae. It is a new venue in the BMW IBU World Cup, a positive novelty. Some athletes know the tracks and the shooting range from the Junior or IBU Cup competitions. But the Beijing venue was also new for almost everybody, and the best athletes adapted fast and won the most medals. The thrill of biathlon stays the same: the combination of fast skiing and shooting with high accuracy wins.