Stina Nilsson’s decision to make the move from cross country skiing to become a biathlete has created many biathlon related headlines after the 2019-20 season was brought to a premature end during the competitions early in March 2020.
After a promising competition debut in Idre, where she hit seven of ten targets in the sprint, Nilsson was unsurprisingly not selected for the Swedish team for the first world cup races of the new season in Kontiolahti, Finland. Her plan was to gain more competition experience and eventually qualify for a spot in the Swedish world cup team later in the season.
However, recent developments and the world wide pandemic is causing problems. The start of the IBU cup has been postponed until January 2021, and Nilsson’s plan was to start in local races in Sweden, but according to the Swedish broadcaster SVT the Swedish authorities have decided to postpone all biathlon competitions at least until December 14th.
This means that the competitions in the “Jämtland-Härjedalen Cup” in Oestersund, December 5th and 6th, as well as the Swedish cup competitions in Boden, December 12th and 13th, have been postponed and the new competition dates have yet to be decided.
Johannes Lukas the head coach of the Swedish team informed SVT, that it is important for Stina to keep working on her competition routines, but even if this is most easily done during somewhat large competitions, it can also be done during training as Nilsson should not compare her performance much to other athletes at this stage of her development.
Historically several athletes have made the move from cross country skiing to biathlon with great success. The most recent example of this is Germany’s Denise Herrmann, who is reported to be shooting very good in training at the moment.
Most athletes, who have successfully switched from cross country skiing to biathlon, have taken some time before experiencing success. Furthermore, Denise Herrmann had reportedly been training shooting the last few years before she decided to make the move to biathlon. Even if Stina Nilsson has indicated that she already, while winning the cross country skiing sprint during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, knew that she one day would become a biathlete. Every indication is that she had not trained very much shooting before she made the leap during the spring of 2020.
Denise Herrmann is one of the main contenders for winning the 2020-21 overall world cup. She has one gold, three silvers and one bronze from Biathlon World Championships. She has seven individual wins on the world cup level. However during her first season as a biathlete, the 2016-17 season, she earned a meager 114 point and finished in 48th place. Furthermore it seems she had prepared more than Stina Nilsson before switching to biathlon.
Considering the above, what can we reasonably expect from Stina Nilsson this season? This is obviously extremely difficult to predict, Nilsson is a supremely talented athlete. Her shooting drill looked impressive considering her lack of experience and she looked cool, calm and composed when she had to load a spare round after encountering a loading issue during her standing shooting, in her very first competitive race. I think she did very well during the sprint in Idre, but even so I assume we cannot expect much stability from her shooting performances for some time.
Normally when trying to assess what results to expect from any one particular athlete we would turn to our state of the art biathlon model and take a look at the simulated results. However as Stina Nilsson does not yet have many results as a biathlete, this is not a possible course of action. We simply do not have the necessary input data required to project her future performance.
If Nilsson is able to match Herrmann’s first biathlon season and earn 114 points I think the season must be considered a great success. I will not be shocked if she does even better, but I find it likelier that she will not be able to match Herrmann’s first season. Thinking further ahead, I think Stina Nilsson is likely to do very well. Shooting seems to come naturally to her and the mindset she displayed as a cross country skier, staying in the present and taking one race at a time, not being easily fazed, should serve her well as a biathlete.