Uros Velepec Brings His Passion to Germany

As the 2021/22 season wound down, Ukrainian Women’s Coach Uros Velepec found himself not coaching but trying to contact his athletes while helping get a group of younger Ukrainian Athletes and coaches to safety at Pokljuka. April and biathlon arrived, the German federation called and rather quickly, the veteran coach was hired to work alongside long-time German Men’s Head Coach Mark Kirchner.

Vel“Never expected this”

Velepec turned 55 during the team’s first training camp in Mallorca. After dinner that night, I said, ‘Guys, if someone would have told me I would have said one month ago that I would be sitting on my birthday with the German National team in Mallorca, I would say you are crazy.’ I never expected this to happen.” The other surprise, courtesy of his family, happened when he returned from Mallorca, in the yard were six chickens and a coop, something he always talked about but never acted on.

“What about Germany?”

The unexpected move to Germany was one of those right place, right time things. “Several teams contacted me in Beijing, I said we will see after the season. I still had four more years in Ukraine and no job concerns. The war started and this humanitarian work began: kids, driving with supplies, and working with the people at Pokljuka who were so helpful. Six weeks of huge stress… not thinking about biathlon at all. There were several phone calls. At the beginning of April, Felix Bitterling called (I did not know he had moved from IBU Sports Director to German Ski Association’s Biathlon Director); we talk about Ukraine, and my plans. ‘I will not continue in Ukraine but I have energy for 4 or 8 more years.’ He replied, ‘What about Germany?’ Of course, I was always interested in Germany, one of the 3 or 4 nations always at the top.”

The discussion got serious quickly, sitting down in Rosenheim, “We talked for maybe 1.5 hours. I said it would be easier if you could tell me what you want. Felix said, ‘We would like you to coach the Men’s National team with Mark…It took me a moment… adding it was Mark’s wish to have an experienced coach he could share and discuss things with easily.”

Bonding

Since this whirlwind start, this “outsider” has bonded with Kirchner and the team, bringing some new ideas to the table. “To me, every year should be new. I think this is what Mark is happy about: new energy and ideas I have that we discussed with him and the athletes. Mark is such a great guy: funny, good-hearted and modest. But he has been in this program his whole life as an athlete and coach and is pretty set with the physical part. For shooting, he is much more open. He said, ‘tell us what to do and we will do that.’”

“What I really like about this team is that they do not just eat and go; they sit around and talk for 15-20 minutes or more. This is perfect for me because this sport is my passion.”

Kirchner and his co-coach totally agreed on one thing. “For our camp at Pokljuka, he told me to make the plan. ‘You know the place and what is best.’ I said it might be different than what we do in Ruhpolding and the answer was, ‘it will be fine.”

Ruhpolding Based

Velepec, now based Ruhpolding works five days a week with National team athletes Johannes Kuehn, Philipp Nawrath plus five athletes from the perspective group when not in camp. “I will also sometimes cover Notschrei in the Schwarzwald to work with directly Benni (Doll) and Roman Rees. These guys (National team) are a little ‘spoiled’ with only one training camp a month, but their home bases are so good that every day is like a training camp with good coaches and support.” Finding a bit of humour in a “normal” work week schedule, he added, “This is like a real job. Home on the weekends when we are not in camp!”

BenniOrganized and on-time

The organization in and around the team impressed Velepec from the start with any type of support close at hand from nutrition to testing and technology. “I was surprised at how organized they are. (In Mallorca), every afternoon, they clean the bikes. When the cook went home two days early, Benni was in the kitchen. Somebody was cutting, someone else was cleaning and another serving. There was no discussion; everyone was doing a little part of the meal… Each day, everything was on time. If the plan was to leave at 5 o’clock, everyone was there at 4:55.”

Going for 75%

This coaching job is no easy task because the expectations for the German team are high. “It is a big challenge with Erik, Arnd and Simon all gone. Only Benni remains from this great four…As a coach, my job was always to win in Slovenia and be on the podium with Ukraine. We did that. Here it is no mistakes: find the right work, intensity, to make everything work in the winter. I like this, this is what I do…We have Summer Championships and World Championships right here. So, the challenge is to make a difference in eight months. I am not perfect, but Wolfgang Pichler told me, ‘If you are right 70% of the time, you are the best coach.’ I am going for 75%!”

“Still a game”

Much of this two-time Olympic biathlete and Double Ironman World Champion’s task revolves around small improvements, especially on the shooting range, “all of these guys want to be faster, stronger, more accurate, that is what I am there for,” but also to relax them a little bit. “They are intense and maybe in some Balkan way, I can remind them life is still good, there are much more serious situations. This is still a game.”

Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Jerry Kokesh, Benedikt Doll

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