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Winter sports: The Germans are having more success in biathlon than ever before

Suddenly in the spotlight: Philipp Nawrath in the yellow jersey of the World Cup leader

Photo: imago/Petter Arvidson

Benedikt Doll smiles relaxed when he thinks about the past preparation for the season. In early autumn, the oldie in the German biathletes team sometimes said in a slightly flirtatious manner that he was slowly getting old and that sometimes it was difficult for him to motivate himself. But between the moments when the desire to see his wife Miriam and 16-month-old son Julius more often arises, Doll was basically very happy with the long gallop into winter.

“This year it was actually relatively easy for me again, I have to be honest,” he explains in an interview with “nd”. “And that was certainly also because I changed a few things that I felt like and motivated to try out.” For Doll, it was above all getting used to a new weapon that kept him busy over the summer. But there were also a few other innovations for the Black Forest native and the other ski hunters from the German Ski Association (DSV), who now want to confirm their unexpectedly brilliant start to the season in Östersund in Hochfilzen.

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The Slovenian Uroš Velepec, who was promoted to boss after the resignation of national coach Mark Kirchner, has a new assistant for the areas of running and athletics in the form of the former world-class cross-country skier Jens Filbrich. Velepec himself introduced many new forms of training when working with the rifle and had a lot of competitive shootings against each other. With Livigno and the Lavazè Pass, each located at 1,800 meters, and Herzogenaurach, training locations were also selected where even the experienced Doll had not previously completed a training camp. In between, Germany’s ski hunters trained in a wind tunnel for the first time. Remembering this training component, Doll laughs loudly: “Such a huge wind tunnel for us biathletes, which we know can generate wind of 300 km/h. And we’re standing there at 25 km/h – that was slightly oversized,” smiles the 33-year-old, but at the same time emphasizes: “It was a very cool experience.”

And the first individual races in Östersund were really cool for Germany’s ski hunters: in the classic individual, sprint and pursuit, they outplayed the international competition, especially the seemingly all-powerful Norwegians, time and time again. When leaving Storsjön Lake, the DSV had eight podium finishes in six individual races. There were also third places in the men’s and women’s relays.

Ten times in the top three with black-red-gold – such a starting record never existed even in the heyday of German biathlon. The best was nine podium finishes in December 2001, contributed by Frank Luck, Ricco Groß and Uschi Disl. The scene 22 years ago was Hochfilzen – and the success story of Östersund is now to be continued there in the Pillerseetal. It started on Friday with the men’s and women’s sprints, before the pursuit races and relays follow this weekend.

“We did a lot right, that’s good for self-confidence,” says Doll’s Black Forest training colleague Roman Rees, individual winner in Östersund, referring to the recipe for success, tweaking numerous details in the preparation for new paths and thus the big picture to a much higher level to have raised the level. What’s particularly striking is that in addition to Franziska Preuß, who is taking a break from illness in Hochfilzen and who has now found her way back to the top of the world after an aborted season, Philipp Nawrath, a real late bloomer in Tyrol, can first put on the jersey of the World Cup leader. The preparation for the 30-year-old from Allgäu began rather painfully: while playing football in May he broke his metatarsal and tore his ligaments – a mishap that did not prevent him from triumphing in the Östersund sprint and place six months later to conjure up two top positions in the pursuit in the Swedish snow.

»It’s crazy. You’ve already had so many races and then something like this happens,” beamed Nawrath after his debut victory in the World Cup, six and a half years after his baptism of fire in the first biathlete league. And head coach Velepec enjoyed the fact that the Füssen native had so impressively taken to heart his most important lesson of the past summer – shooting quickly with a good dose of daring. “He has made risky shooting perfect,” praised the 56-year-old.

The good work of their own ski technicians gave the German biathletes additional momentum in the two weeks at the first World Cup station of the winter. After the ban on environmentally harmful fluorine waxes, the preparation of skis now requires a lot of skill. Week after week we have to rework things in view of the prevailing snow and weather conditions.

However, one thing is also certain: the newfound self-confidence is not only due to the quality of the material. “We have made progress in terms of running economy, we determined that through special analyses,” emphasizes the new running coach Jens Filbrich to “nd” and calls the team with boss Velepec and the two women’s trainers Kristian Mehringer and Sverre Olsbu Röiseland “a cool one Troop«.

Sports director Felix Bitterling is expressly included in this relaxed management team. The 46-year-old from Berchtesgaden, who has been in office at DSV since April 2022, asserts in view of the recent successes that the German team traveled to Hochfilzen “without any form of arrogance”. After the glorious start in Scandinavia, there can be a little self-praise. »Result lists don’t lie. Even before the start of the winter, none of us doubted that we were on the right path,” says Bitterling – and emphasizes: “We have cobbled together a team that is unique, in which everyone is interested in what the other one is doing might. That’s something special and we want to continue to expand on that.”

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