The new queen of German biathlon
Laura Dahlmeier looks set to be one of the stars of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Ranked No.1 in the world, the German biathlete is in the form of her life, becoming the first athlete in history to win five gold medals at a single World Championships at Hochfilzen in 2017 as well as winning the 2016/17 IBU World Cup title.
World championship bonanzaWhen she climbed to the top of the podium after the mass start, the final race of the 2017 World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT), Dahlmeier raised a hand with fingers outstretched to indicate the number “five”, the number of gold medals she had won at the championships.
The German is the first biathlete ever to achieve the feat, taking the honours in the mixed relay, pursuit, women’s relay, individual and mass start races. The only title to evade her grasp was the sprint, which was won by Gabriela Koukalova of the Czech Republic. Having won five medals in Oslo-Holmenkollen a year before, including her maiden gold, in the pursuit, Dahlmeier is now the proud owner of 11 world championship medals in total.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Dahlmeier after collecting her mass start gold in Hochfilzen. “It’s like a dream come true. I try to give my best in every race. Yeah, I did it. The world championships were really great. It’s perfect to win five golds and a silver. It’s also the 11th medal in a row. It’s great, but I wasn’t expecting it.”
Rising starBorn in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on 22 August 1993, at just 1.62m Dahlmeier is petite but blessed with exceptional stamina. She took up the sport when she was only seven, dividing her time between it and Alpine skiing over the next two years before deciding to devote herself exclusively to biathlon.
Dahlmeier scored several notable wins in her teenage years, not least at the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in Liberec (CZE) in 2011, where she won gold in all three races (10km individual, 6km sprint and the mixed relay). That year also saw her complete her school studies and join the national customs service club, which allowed her to focus entirely on biathlon.
Olympic debutThe German was 19 when she made her IBU World Cup debut in the 2012/13 season. That same winter, she won three medals at the Junior World Championships in Obertilliach (AUT) in the individual, sprint, and relay events. She went on to gain selection to the national team for Sochi 2014, her first taste of the Olympics. Enjoying what she described as a “brilliant” experience, Dahlmeier recorded a best performance of 13th in the individual.
In Neuner’s footstepsA keen hiker and climber (hobbies that help bring balance to her life, with climbing also aiding the concentration she needs for shooting), Dahlmeier very quickly followed in the tracks of her compatriot Magdalena Neuner, the winner of two Olympic gold medals and 12 world championship golds, who retired aged 25 in 2012.
On 5 February 2015, the Garmisch-born biathlete won her first World Cup race, the sprint at Nové Město na Moravě (CZE). Building on that success, she won races in all formats before becoming world No.1 at the age of 23, on the back of an outstanding 2016/17 season.
Winter queenThe perfect anchor in relay races, Dahlmeier’s power on the skis and accuracy and calm with the rifle set her apart from the rest. Even on occasions when she missed a shot on the last leg, she was invariably able to overtake her rivals before the finish line, ensuring that the German team went unbeaten all season.
The German also knows when to save her energy, deciding to sit out the World Cup meet on home snow in Oberhof in early January 2017, not that it stopped her from winning the crystal globe for the individual before the season’s end, having gone unbeaten in the event all winter.
A week after winning five golds in Hochfilzen, Dahlmeier was back in action at the pre-Olympic test event in PyeongChang, which doubled up as round seven of the IBU World Cup. She was in typically imperious form at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, hitting 10 out of 10 targets to win the sprint, and then 20 out of 20 in claiming victory in the pursuit by over a minute.
“It’s always important to go back to a place where things have gone well for you in the past,” said Dahlmeier, looking ahead to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Dahlmeier took her 10th World Cup victory of the season in Kontiolahti (FIN) on 11 March, which secured her the big crystal globe, the first German biathlete to do so since Neuner took her third in 2012. Summing up the scale of the task faced by Dahlmeier’s rivals, Koukalova, who finished runner-up to her in the overall World Cup standings, said: “She’s virtually impossible to beat. She’s so focused.”
Widely tipped to be one of the star acts of PyeongChang 2018, where she will go for gold in six events, it is hard to see anyone denying Dahlmeier another gold rush should she replicate her 2017 form in the Republic of Korea.