The biathlon legend Ricco Gross is preparing a new generation of biathlon talent for the Beijing Olympics. His formula for success? “When we win, we win together. When we lose, we accept defeat together too. “
If you’ve ever watched an Olympic biathlon competition, you know that the culmination of any race happens at the shooting range. When an athlete prepares to shoot, cameras are often aimed at the coaches behind the range. These photos of the coaches’ tense faces reflect the intensity of biathlon like nothing else: some clench their fists when they manage to close “five out of five”; others cover their faces with their hands in frustration when things go wrong. Often, at such moments, Ricco Gross, the legendary athlete-turned-coach, gets into the lens.
How it All Began
Gross has been involved in biathlon for over 40 years. Born in East Germany, he started cross-country skiing. Once biathlon coach Jörg-Peter Deckert visited the ski team and invited the athletes to try shooting. Gross switched to a new sport without looking back: “The shooting was a great experience. It was really exciting. ” The German admits that the beginning of his sports career was just a series of “only unsuccessful competitions” with the only chances for a medal in the relay.
His first success came at 18 when he won a medal at the first World Junior Championships. As a young man, Ricco Gross worked with the famous trainer Klaus Siebert, who had a huge impact on him as an athlete, future trainer, and person: “He was more than a coach. In my youth, I wanted to lead a life outside of sports: for example, going to discos. If someone told him [Klaus Siebert] that an athlete was late for the base, he was sure it was Ricco. He was like a father, he always helped me in these stupid situations. “
Both coaches, Deckert and Siebert, made Ricco Gross an outstanding athlete who went down in history as the only biathlete to win four Olympic relay titles and who competed against such legends as Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen or Frenchman Raphael Poiret.
Biathlon Legend Ricco Gross: Career Change
After finishing his sports career, Gross put down his rifle and skis and … returned to school. He realized the importance of theoretical knowledge in coaching and joined the academic coaching program in Cologne. It is this theoretical knowledge and incredible athlete experience that distinguishes Coach Gross: “I know how an athlete experiences during the last five attempts at important competitions, as well as at the beginning of the race if in the period he hears that he is 15 seconds behind the leader.”
Before the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Gross applied his formula for success abroad: first, he worked as the head coach of the ROC and then as the coach of the Austrian men’s national team. The four-time Olympic champion approaches international coaching as a new learning experience: “Never think too much about a new situation. Just do it. If you have the opportunity to work in another country, study. Not the language, but how it works. ” Gross spoke about his coaching philosophy: “My goal is to help the athlete to improve step by step. Just look at the time of the shooting of Simon Eder. It used to be very fast. It is now a little slower, but much more stable. “
The key to coaching success? Gross emphasizes trust between athlete and coach: “The most important thing is that athletes trust you. You are responsible for your training plan for the year, month to month, week to week. You must consider how the athletes are feeling, whether they are tired or not. Sometimes difficult situations arise in training. If I say that certain hard training is important for the result, they listen to my words. “
Biathlon Legend Ricco Gross: Visualization of Beijing Tracks
In addition to daily training, Gross devotes a lot of time to the moral preparation of his athletes: “We are working on various scenarios with athletes and thinking about the best solutions: shoot faster or more confidently, start a strong finish not in the last 200 m, but 2 km earlier.” This process seems more important than ever, given the unpredictability of competition on an unfamiliar Beijing track: “Last year there was no World Championship in Beijing, so this is a completely new situation for everyone. Nobody knows the tracks and shooting ranges. We watched a few videos, but they are not the same. “
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Why Biathlon Medals are Important for Austria
Not surprisingly, the Olympic pressure on the Austrian national team is great. Since Gross joined the team, Austria has been adding to the collection of medals from the World Championships every season. One of the biggest hopes for a medal is a relatively recent kind of Olympic program: the mixed relay: “In biathlon, we have an interesting competition format: a mixed relay, when men and women compete together. Last season we had great success: a medal in Pokljuka in this discipline. “
Gross also talked about his medal chances: “We have Julian Eberhard, one of the fastest skiers on the World Cup track. If he covers targets, he has a great chance. There is also the young biathlete Felix Leitner, who took the podium for the first time last season. Our experienced “old man” Simon Eder can try to climb the podium in all competitions if he fires cleanly. Last season we found the fourth athlete for the relay – David Komatz. He is a very ambitious biathlete with great potential. “
Biathlon Legend Ricco Gross: Winning Austrian Nation Hearts
When asked what it is like to go to the Olympics with the status of a “trainer” in accreditation and not compete, but watch the competition of others, Gross gives an honest answer:
“When I competed, I was alone with my victories and defeats. Now if we win, we win together. If we lose, we accept defeat together too. ” For a country that is so focused on skiing and invests in this sport, a medal (or more!) In biathlon, it is important to draw attention to this sport. And if in Beijing the Austrian national team takes at least some of the heights with which their mentor previously excited everyone, biathlon has a real chance to win the hearts of the nation.
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