I am convinced that the Black Forest is the best place to do winter sports and to train. That's why I am trying to bring our national team here one day.
Benedikt, we are sitting in your living room with a view of the mountains. What goes through your mind when you look outside?
I enjoy the view from my living room window into the Dreisamtal. I see the silhouette of the mountains - you can even see as far as the Vosges and, sometimes, the Kaiserstuhl. I love being in the Black Forest.
The new season starts in a few days. What does your training look like right now?
You actually do sport all year round, except in April, when there's a break in the season of two or three weeks. I train a lot in the weight room, but I'm also out and about with roller skis. Right now, I'm doing a lot of autumn training with roller skis, I'm doing mountain tours, and I'm training step jumps.
What are step jumps?
You look for a mountain and do alternating jumps. You mimic the skating technique. This is very intensive.
What do the following have to do with you: Black Forest, World Cup, and Doll's kitchen?
I am truly a Black Forest native, born in Titisee-Neustadt, and I don't want to move from here. When I'm in a training camp for a fortnight, I get homesick. I love the high vista in the Black Forest, the Kaiserstuhl.
With regard the World Cup, as a biathlete, I am, or was, for a long time rather an oddity in the Black Forest. Ski jumping is much more popular here. I also came to the biathlon via skiing, improving more and more before deciding to take it up professionally. Then, in 2012, I first competed in the World Cup.
On the topic of Doll's kitchen, my father is a chef, and I started helping him cook when I was little. Good nutrition is important for my sport. There are many regional ingredients to be found in the Dreisamtal. Our book, Doll’s Schwarzwaldlust, includes many recipes I cook at home. The special thing about the book is the combination of dishes with the best tours in the Black Forest. Hikes… mountain bike tours... And when you've eaten something, naturally you need burn it off!
Were you pretty much born into sport?
My family is very sporty, especially my sister who is a semi-professional marathon runner. I need to make a real effort to keep up with her.
What does it take to be successful?
I think it takes a balance. If you're too ambitious and take everything too seriously, you break down in professional sport because you cannot keep going under all that pressure. If something doesn't work out, you need to deal with it. You need to be relaxed enough to say: "Oh, that was nothing, I'll forget it. Let's try again." I don't have problems being loose and relaxed. I always think I do too little, but in the end, I know it's more than enough. If the weather is bad, I can say I'm not going out. The key is to keep at it. When I do something, I do it 100%.
Is biathlon more challenging than other sports in terms of concentration and performance?
It is a sport with many facets. In biathlon there are so many different areas to develop, and you always have something to improve. After a competition, I always know what I need to work on.
What do you have going on now? How does your training work during the pandemic? Are there any restrictions?
The restrictions don't affect me much. In April and May, I was on the road on my own for my training anyway. Of course, I would have liked to go cycling with a group, but I can't complain. My wife has holiday apartments, so that's a different story. She must organise so many things whilst observing hygiene regulations. Of course, she is affected by the guest accommodation ban. All in all, as a winter sportsman, I cope very well with the Coronavirus measures.
When exactly does the new season start?
The season starts at the end of November in Kontiolahti, Finland. Before that, there will be preparation for the snow. Unfortunately, you need to look for snow in November. However, you have better odds of finding it in Finland. The International Biathlon Union (IBU) wants to keep competitions according to the current calendar, but in different places where you can stay longer. You can spend a fortnight in one place then move on. This reduces the overall amount of travel. We athletes are encouraged to stay in a bubble with the team. That is the IBU's strategy. I hope that all the World Cup events will take place, but it's hard to say right now.
In the Black Forest, the majestic white landscapes of November are still a long way away…
Yes, that's true. That's why we have the snow depot at Notschrei, but that's mainly for the youngsters. I think the snow is only brought out there at the beginning of December. The facility at Notschrei is still a little small for professional sports. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the Black Forest is one of the best locations for winter sports. That's why I try to bring one or two international sports groups to the Black Forest. It pleases me to see some roller-skiers in the summer - it seems to be a trend.
Speaking of majestic white landscapes, what will you do if there is no more snow in the Black Forest at some point?
You can take precautionary measures, of course. There are very cold nights at higher altitudes, even if it doesn't snow. You can also work with artificial snow, but it must be environmentally friendly. Then, as I said, there is also the snow depot at Notschrei. There, the previous year's snow is covered with sawdust and taken out again in December. That's an environmentally friendly way to ensure there is snow. But sure, I miss the snow, especially around Christmas time.
What were your milestones this year?
I was able to finish my degree this year after eight years. I always took a semester off in the winter, which meant it took a little longer. I now have a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering. It was a lot of fun, and I got a lot out of it.
Is this a kind of plan B for after professional sport?
I want to continue until 2023 and be at the home World Cup. I think it's important to create security in professional sport. It's always better to say, “if I fail now, I have something to fall back on."
In December 2019, you spoke in an interview about your season goals, which included a podium finish in the World Cup, an individual medal at the World Championships, and a top 6 finish overall in the World Cup. How did it all go?
I just missed out on the overall World Cup finish: I was seventh. But I'm still satisfied. At the World Championships it didn't go so well in Antholz. I had some problems at the shooting range, but I learned a lot and was able to improve since then. It always depends on your competitors’ form, but I'll keep at it and I'm motivated.
Thank you very much for the interview, Benedikt. And good luck!
Text: Iris Huber, Pictures: Nordicfocus und Michael Bührer
Date of Publication: 12.11.2020