In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com the Norwegian biathlon star spoke about her personal struggles with the demands of her sport and why we should all follow in Simone Biles’ footsteps and get real about how we feel.
Aggression and precision. Exertion and focus. Mind and muscle.
It’s no secret that biathlon is one of the most challenging Olympic disciplines when it comes to pushing the body and the brain to their absolute limits.
Just ask Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff.
Biathletes must pour all their energy and will into the cross-country portions of the race only then to bring their heart rate down to an absolute minimum as they come to a standstill and test their marksmanship.
Throw into the equation the penalties and punishments that come when a mistake is made and it’s little wonder why biathletes such as Eckhoff admit to struggling with their mental health when it comes to their sport.
The 31-year-old from Bærum has always been open about her ambitions in biathlon.
“I have the goal to beat Tora (Berger) and become the best Norwegian biathlete ever,“ Eckhoff told Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) last year.
And after picking up a medal of every colour at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Eckhoff is well on her way to meeting her goal.
She now has four more Olympic medals than Berger and is one individual World Cup podium win away from matching her.
But at what cost?
Speaking exclusively to Olympics.com Eckhoff opened up on the particular psychological challenges in her sport and why she, like many athletes since Tokyo 2020, is grateful for the example set by American gymnastSimone Biles when it comes to being honest about mental health.
Biathlon, with its conflicting demands, is naturally an intriguing challenge to any competitive mindset.
Growing up, the 27-time World Cup winner was always fascinated by the sport particularly when she watched her older brother Stian – 11 years her senior – compete:
“I thought it was the most fantastic sport,” she told the International Biathlon Union. “It was endurance, it was mental, it was technical and kind of entertaining as well. I fell in love with it as a young athlete.”
That same compelling blend that drew Eckhoff in is, at the same time, the thing that often causes her to struggle most when it comes to her own mental well-being:
“During biathlon, your mental health goes really up and down,” the Norwegian explained to Olympics.com. “When you think you get it, you don’t get it anymore. It’s always a mistake. It’s really hard to take it easy because you never get the best.
“It always hits you in the face that you can’t shoot, and you can’t ski. It’s really hard to be calm and easy in biathlon sports.”
“Simone Biles – I love her,” Eckhoff shared without hesitation when asked what the gymnast meant to her.
And with everything the biathlete has been through in recent times, it’s easy to understand why.
Having experienced biathlon's emotional rollercoaster, Eckhoff expressed gratitude for Biles’ decision to prioritise her mental well-being ahead of sporting success:
“I think mental health is really, really important,” continued the biathlon star. “I see people struggle all the time and don’t talk about mental health and I think it’s really important to talk about it because then it’s maybe easier for others to talk about it as well.”
The eight-time Olympic medallist believes we owe it to ourselves and those around us to be more honest about our situation, even when we’d rather pretend otherwise:
“I think in the world we live in, with all the social media, everybody thinks that everybody lives the perfect life. I know myself that I don’t live any perfect life, but it looks like it on Instagram.
“I think everybody should know that everybody can struggle.”
Eckhoff has been open about her ongoing struggles with her chosen discipline, not least in the last the couple of seasons which, she says, have been particularly challenging.
Disappointments on the course were translating into lows off it and breaking that trend required the biathlete to dig deep and challenge the negative thoughts that oftentimes bubble up:
“I’m not perfect. This year, I struggled a lot. But somehow, I always try to push myself back at it. I’m a survivor. I never give up. That’s my motto.”
That kind of resilience was plain to see in the reigning World Cup overall title holder’s performances at recent world championships.
In 2020 she failed to podium in any of the individual events, finishing 15th in the individual, 59th in the sprint, 20th in pursuit and 7th in the mass start. She was very disheartened by the outcome.
A year later, through a sheer force of will, she was on six out of a possible seven podiums, winning four races and adding two more podium finishes demonstrating her tenacity to fight on.
Revealing a slight sense of relief that the Beijing 2022 challenge was over and that she was happy with what she had achieved, Eckhoff also shared she couldn’t wait to get back to some meditation and yoga once the season ends – two tools that have helped her along the way with her mental health.
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