Norwegian biathlete Marte Olsbu Røiseland had one goal for 2020: win an individual World Championship gold medal. While she scored a gold medal in the relay race in the 2016 World Championships in Holmenkollen, and 3 more in 2019 in Östersund (all in relay races), she had never won an individual gold medal at a World Championship. She made it her main objective for this season, putting the overall standings aside and focusing on the races in Antholz, Italy. Her preparation paid off, as she went on to become the first biathlete to win seven medals at a World Championship, including five golds and two bronze. We asked her a few questions to understand just how she pulled off this unreal performance.
You had an amazing week at the Biathlon World Championship. How hard is it to perform at the highest level across seven races in 11 days?
Yeah, the Biathlon World Championship was just totally amazing. What did actually happen? I just tried to take it one day at the time, and suddenly I had seven medals. I still don’t believe it myself. I got so tired during the championship, both physically and mentally – especially towards the end – but at the same time I had this feeling that kept me going, and everything just worked out the best possible way. The hardest part was probably to switch in and out of focus and keeping the right balance of tension/excitement going through each day. You need to be ready when it's game time while trying to save as much energy as possible between the races. Seven races in 11 days is a challenging task, but not impossible when you work towards a big dream with a good preparation and a great team around you.
Did your early win in the sprint boost your confidence for the races that came next?
Winning my first individual gold medal on the sprint felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had announced early this season that I wanted to focus on the World Championship in Antholz and on getting an individual gold medal. I put a lot of pressure on myself by doing this, as it is one thing to say, but it’s a completely different thing to actually do it. When I got the individual gold medal on my first attempt, it was just crazy. The way it happened was also crazy, with such an exciting and tense race! That was almost too much for me.
After the sprint, I decided that the rest of the championship was a bonus. I just wanted to have fun and enjoy every moment, being in the beautiful place that is Antholz with its mountains and the sun. A lot of my family and friends were at the stadium, which made it magical. So, for sure, starting the championship with a gold medal in the mix-relay, followed by my first individual gold medal gave me confidence. I was in good shape, my plan had worked perfectly, and things were just flowing. It was the best feeling ever!
At the beginning of the season, you skipped World Cup races to focus on Antholz. How did it feel to stay home while your competitors where scoring points for the overall standing?
Yes, I did skip three individual races in France. This was part of my plan that I built with my coach early in the season. I had to make tough choices if I wanted to fight and have a chance of an individual gold medal in Antholz. Last year in Östersund, I felt like I was missing the little extra you need to fight at the very top. So, I decided to skip some races to focus on preparation in order to give myself a better chance to reach my dream of becoming an individual world champion.
I never had any ambitions for the overall cup this season, so seeing the others score points in France did not matter. I was cheering for my teammates, and I’m very happy for their results. On the other hand, it’s never fun watching a race you know you could be running, fighting alongside the others. But I had a well-thought-through plan that I just had to follow through. I did receive some critics from the Norwegian media for skipping France, so winning the individual gold gave these critics that doubted me a good answer.
You work closely with the Salomon team regarding your equipment. Can you tell us about the work done with Salomon technicians for the World Championships?
Yes, I use Salomon skis and boots. When you want to become world champion, you need the best equipment and team around you. I’m so lucky to have an amazing waxing crew along with a super (service) man from Salomon (Tony). They gave me the very best Salomon skis that allow me to fight at the very top level in biathlon every weekend. During the World Championship, I had amazing skis, so big thanks to everyone in my team that helped me.
If you could give one training tip to amateur Nordic skiers around the world, what would you say?
My best tip would be to practice on weight transfer. Dare to feel the skis below you as the center of gravity changes, pushing from one side to the other. It’s also great to practice skiing without poles, which forces you to deal with the weight transfer to create the power going forward. And, of course, always have fun and enjoy skiing. It’s the best thing there is!