The biathlon national team’s preparations for the Winter Olympics have been going according to plan. Long-term partners like Patria are vital for endurance sports.

Text: Matti Remes Photo:  Finnish Biathlon Association

Photo: The Biathlon National Team celebrates Suvi Minkkinen’s (third from right) sixth place in the sprint at the summer World Cup in Nové Město, Czech Republic. Head coach Jonne Kähkönen is at the far right of the picture.

With three high-altitude camps in Italy behind them, the team now has a snow camp in Olos to look forward to before the World Cup opens in Östersund, Sweden in late November.

This is what the Biathlon National A Team’s practice season looks like this year, and head coach Jonne Kähkönen says that everything has been going according to plan.

“Above all, I’m heading into the competition season with a sense of curiosity. Our training has gone well, and we’ve moved forward with the issues at hand. But you have to bear in mind that others will also have made progress. It will be interesting to see how we compare at international level,” says Kähkönen.

The Finnish team for the first World Cup competitions will be selected at an observation competition in October – and the Beijing Olympics in February will add even more excitement to the winter.

Relay teams vying for scoring spots

The head coach considers success in the relay to be an important indicator of the national team’s development.“Although I naturally hope that our greatest successes will be had at the Olympics, good, solid placings in the World Cup will be an indication of progress,” says Kähkönen.

The Finnish men’s relay team achieved a best of seventh place in last season’s heats for the Biathlon World Cup.

“During the coming season, the men’s team will be aiming to reach the top six in at least one of the competitions.”

The women’s team was slightly less successful last season. However, Kähkönen says that they have made progress and have a good chance of placing between sixth and tenth in the relay.

When it comes to individual athletes, Kähkönen thinks that Mari Eder has the potential to be competing for medals at both the World Cup and the Olympics, if both she and her ski maintenance are on top form.

“Of the men, Tero Seppälä had a pretty solid last season, albeit without any stand-out successes. But it’s a good foundation, so we can expect him to move up a notch and maybe even make it onto the podium.”

A focus on shooting practice

This year’s Finnish National A Team consists of four women and five men. Alongside them, the ten-person Terrafame team will also be vying for top spots in international competitions. There is also a Finnish junior team, who have their sights set on the Junior World Cup and European Championships.

Practicing muscle endurance is everything in an endurance sport like the biathlon, yet for the last two years, the Finnish team has focused more on improving their shooting.

“The team’s basic shooting skills are good, but there’s room for improvement in managing their performance at competitions,” says Jonne Kähkönen.

Keeping your nerve at the firing point is crucial. Sports psychologist Niilo Konttinen has been drafted in to support the team in this area, as he has lengthy experience in mentally coaching top athletes in a number of sports.

Long-term partnership with Patria of great importance

Patria has been working with the Finnish Biathlon Association since 2011, and will be continuing as one of the main partners to both the men’s and women’s national teams. Kähkönen says that it is vital for the national team to have a partner that is committed to long-term cooperation, as the country’s resources are small in comparison to the international giants.

“The biathlon is an endurance sport in which results don’t come at the click of a finger. It’s great to see that, as a partner, Patria understands this and takes a longer-term view,” says Kähkönen.

Kähkönen also believes that the support of armchair athletes is very important to the competitors. There will be plenty of opportunities for cheering the team on this winter, as both the Winter Olympics and the Biathlon World Cup will be shown on Yle channels. In March, you will also be able to watch the top competitors live in Finland during the Kontiolahti heat.