Impressed with the venue and first three competitions in Beijing, the winner of two gold and one bronze medal at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Laura Dahlmeier remembers tough questions she had to answer when she subordinated everything to realise her Olympic dreams. She reflects on Denise Herrmann's gold and looks ahead to the sprint and pursuit competitions.
Olympic Winter Games are the pinnacle of every athlete's career. The same goes for the coaching team, technicians, and the rest of the support. As an athlete, you spend a lot of time preparing. You think of the conditions, high altitude, wind, snow composure, time difference, and - as is the case with the Beijing 2022 Games - lack of in-person social interactions. Uncertainty is part of the Olympics, even more so this year due to the additional stress related to the pandemics, where one needs to take health measures into the equation and try to avoid contracting C-19 at all costs. Staying relaxed but alert, adapting to the daily situation, the ability to rely on the team of people around you is the best recipe for good performance in such circumstances. With mixed relays and both individual competitions behind us, we can nevertheless speak of very positive first impressions from Beijing 2022. The tracks are very well prepared and broad enough for athletes to have enough space to execute their plans. The density of floodlights is fantastic and allows for fair and undisturbed competitions when daylight leaves the stadium. The wind certainly plays a significant role in Beijing, but that is part of the biathlon.
Denise Herrmann subordinated everything in the last two seasons towards the Beijing 2022 Games. Many skeptics doubted her process and decisions, but that never disoriented Denise in her quest for success in the Olympics. She withstood the pressure from the outside but above all managed her inner expectations well. She studied how I prepared for the PyeongChang 2018 Games, as I was well aware of how Magdalena Neuner streamlined her focus and energies towards Vancouver 2010 Games. Of course, this is not the only way to succeed. But when you have two examples from the same team, it gives you some assurance, especially if there is a commotion around you, and you can talk to the people who have gone down a similar path before you. Her form was swinging between promising and worrying in the first two trimesters of the 2021/2022 season. She nevertheless stayed relaxed and kept saying that things must align for her, and she would win. Denise's mental strength developed a great deal in the last seasons as she learned to compete 'in the moment' and not think of the past or the future or the consequences. Such an approach allowed her to take more time in the second prone shooting; she regained her composure in an instant after one miss and applied her powers on the skis until the end. And there she is now, on top of the Olympic world, a gold medallist in the individual!
The winner of the men's individual, Quentin Fillon Maillet, stayed true to his belief that competing is the best preparation and that - be it the world cup or Olympics - you need to bring your best biathlon to win. Success in the world cup gives confidence, and we could see with Quentin how sure he is of his skiing prowess as he out-skied even back-in-form JT Boe in the individual and won despite two misses. Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, who, just like Quentin, leads in the Total Score standings, also transferred her winning form from the world cup to the Olympics. And it will be of great interest to see how many more medals Marte and Quentin can win as the excitement grows with sprints and pursuits coming up.
France and Norway will again be the principal actors in the sprint. Very close results in the individual in Beijing and five different winners in six world cup sprints this season show how small the margins among the best men are. That makes singling out a clear favourite almost impossible. It is my personal wish that Tarjei Boe gets his ski speed back in time to land on the podium and finally wins an individual Olympic medal. In the women's sprint, it will be intriguing to see whether Belarus Hanna Sola and Dzinara Alimbekava can present themselves in their form world cup form and fulfil their Olympic ambitions. I wonder which Tiril Eckhoff will show up on the shooting range? Tiril's speed is back; she was the fastest on the skis in the individual. Anais Chevalier-Bouchet will also be in the candidate mix for the medals.
There is one question left looking for the answer: Can a thrilling Swedish team who competed with such vigour in the first two trimesters bounce back after early disappointments? It is difficult to say whether they have problems with the material, or perhaps the high altitude doesn't play to their strengths, or the season planning didn’t go as expected? Swedes are still in great physical shape, that is for sure; one doesn't lose that overnight. They will probably improve their speed each day in Beijing. They can still win medals, but don't expect them to look as dominant on the skis as in some world cup weeks.