Quentin Fillon Maillet is living, breathing, multi-medal-winning proof that you are never too old or too successful to keep learning. The 28-year-old may be a double world champion and an early favourite to extend France’s dominance in the men’s biathlon at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, but it has been back to the classroom lately for the man from Jura.
First up, he has been watching Teddy, the documentary charting London 2012 and Rio 2016 heavyweight judo champion Teddy Riner’s return to training after an 18-month break. It has been a revelation.
“He’s an inspiration for me. Teddy is so strong; he wins every time. Physically he is very strong but also in his head. When you win everything he has…,” Fillon Maillet said, petering out as he contemplated the ongoing career of a man who was undefeated for a decade before losing to Japan’s Kageura Kokoro in February this year.
“Teddy really doesn’t like to lose. When he loses it’s very hard for [him], and I also want to be like this. I want to win every time, not [come] second or third. I want to win every time.”
Fillon Maillet has had an impressive career to date but, after ending both the last two World Cup seasons in third place overall, and having not yet won an individual world championship gold medal, it is clear why he is leaving no stone unturned in his quest to reach the very top. And there is someone even closer to home than Riner to whom Fillon Maillet knows he can refer.
“Martin [Fourcade, the five-time Olympic men’s biathlon champion and France’s most successful Olympian], like Teddy, has a very strong head. When he loses, he thinks a lot. I want to be like this,” he said of his former team-mate, who announced his retirement in March this year.
“Now I have experience, [but] I am young, I really want to share the way of big athletes like this.”
Biathlon is an endlessly alluring combination of physical endurance, supreme skill and mental strength. It is this final element that Fillon Maillet knows he needs to work on. He dominated on skis through the 2019/20 World Cup season but had an up-and-down time on the range.
“The thing [in which] I can progress most is in my head for shooting,” he admitted. “The shooting is very different to the physical [side of biathlon]. When you wake up you know approximately if you are feeling good and well, but with shooting you never know. Sometimes you wake up with good energy and everything is perfect, but you shoot badly; and sometimes you wake up not good, you are feeling bad, but you can shoot very well.
Every time it is hard. It’s not all about the training. You have to stay very focused during the race because you know it’s complicated with the shooting, with the wind, with the fans, with all the noise. Quentin Fillon Maillet - Quentin Fillon Maillet
Earlier this year, Fillon Maillet took silver in both the 10km sprint and the 15km mass start at the World Championships in Antholz, Italy – as well as gold in the 4x7.5km relay – showing he is not far away. But it is individual gold he really wants.
Fourcade’s absence is both an opportunity for Fillon Maillet and a challenge. He knows not having the man who grabbed three gold medals at PyeongChang 2018 around gives him a greater chance of fulfilling his ultimate dream, but at the same time he misses his friend.
“We shared a lot of emotion, a lot of time together. I saw Martin more than my girlfriend,” Fillon Maillet laughed.
The pair were together at the last Olympic Winter Games but had very different experiences. While Fourcade was cementing his place in French sporting folklore, Fillon Maillet was suffering. His girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer in late 2017 and, with his mind understandably elsewhere, the younger man lost his shooting touch and could claim a best finish of only 29th, which came in the mass start.
With his girlfriend thankfully better, Beijing in 2022 is undoubtedly the long-term goal. Particularly because Fillon Maillet wants to really enjoy a Games edition the same way he did when he travelled to Sochi 2014 as a team reserve.
“I didn’t race but I could see how the Olympic Games were, inside the [Olympic] Village, inside the [Opening] Ceremony, at the races,” said the man who had competed in his first World Cup just months before Sochi 2014 started. “It was a great atmosphere to share. I watched a lot of biathlon, also snowboard, a lot of other [sports]. I shared a lot of experiences with other athletes. As a young athlete it was great to see how the big machine works.”
Should he complete the journey and claim yet more Olympic gold for France in Beijing, biathlon fans all over the world will have enjoyed a ringside seat. Inspired by Riner, Fillon Maillet has started his own web series, giving followers a real insight into the life of an Olympic athlete.
“I can share my day on social media but I want to do more, showing my personality, my life, my training,” he said. “Lots of people are talking about it when I see friends or people on the street. They really want to see the next video. It’s [been] a good reaction so far.
“But [whether] people watch or don’t watch [is] not important to me; I just want to share. I don’t do biathlon to be famous; I do biathlon for the emotion and to be doing the sport. After, yes, you can be famous and win money, but it’s secondary.”