Nine days ago as I write this the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics were coming to a close. We had just seen nearly two weeks of some truly terrific biathlon performances. We had three great athletes in Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, Quinton Fillon Maillet, and Johannes Thingnes Boe perform at their absolute peaks and win five medals each. We had a rising star in Elvira Oeberg grab three medals of her own and establish herself as not just the future but the right now. We had experienced athletes in Tarjei Boe and Dorothea Wierer get those coveted individual medals they had long sought. And we had two of the most absolutely wild finishes you’ll ever remember with the three man sprint in the Mixed Relay and Latypov’s meltdown on the final shooting in the Men’s Relay.
At the time it felt like the peak of a fun roller coaster of a season with another three weeks of competition still to come. Over the last nine days the world has changed. That’s not entirely fair to say as all of the signs were staring the world in the face. The Olympics in fact were one final distraction. Less than a week after the Closing Ceremonies Russia started an invasion in Ukraine. Since then it feels like nothing has been the same.
I posted a long thread on Twitter over the weekend trying to put into words how I have been feeling. In some ways I feel like I’m walking in a daze. I have difficulty focusing on my day job much less other things. As everybody reading this knows I love biathlon. So much so that I have a biathlon based twitter account, this website, and recently started a podcast.
But over the last week or so it’s been so difficult to find the space to think about biathlon. How can I think about biathlon when I see a picture of a father holding his son in a bomb shelter? A son who looks so much like my own. How can I focus on biathlon when I see a mother huddling with her children with blankets trying to stay warm. How can I focus on biathlon when I see an unexploded missile next to a playground? Newborn babies sleeping in the basement of the hospital on the ground? Men my father’s age, who already fought their wars, signing up to volunteer to protect their country. Everything just seems so much less important.
I ask myself why do I feel this way? It’s thousands of miles away from me. I don’t personally know anybody in this war. The outcome of this war won’t directly affect my life or my family. Yet I can’t stop reading about it. I can’t stop updating my twitter feed. I keep coming back to that father and son and that mother with her children I can’t think of anything else. I think of my family.
In my Twitter thread I mentioned that biathlon is a family. The IBU frequently uses the hashtag #biathlonfamily. Sometimes it feels like just a really good piece of advertising. But we all are a family. Biathlon is a relatively small community. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a really good group on Twitter, not normally a place of rational conversation. Many of your reading this are from that group and I thank you for being a part of it.
The biathlon family isn’t just seen amongst fans, it’s seen with the athletes. I shared these anecdotes already but just look at German Eric Lesser letting Russian Eduard Latypov use his home and exercise equipment to keep his form during Latypov’s COVID quarantine in Germany. What about Norwegian Johannes Thingnes Boe saying how much he wanted to help and comfort his direct competitor Frenchman Emilien Jacquelin who was publicly struggling with mental struggles. Look at French woman Julia Simon being the first to go to Norwegian Ingrid Tandrevold when she collapsed at the finish line in the Olympic Pursuit race. The biathlon family is real.
Right now that family is in danger. Members of our family are under attack. Ukrainian biathletes are unable to travel for the rest of the season at least. They are in their home putting their skills to use trying to support their country men and women. Just today Dmytro Pidruchnyi posted on Instagram showing himself in his military uniform. I think we all share the same thoughts, hoping that they stay safe.
Russian and Belarussian athletes also won’t be able to race in the last few weeks of the IBU World Cup season. The decision was ultimately made by their respective home federations. Several of these athletes are members of their home militaries as well. I’m going to hope for their safety all the same as the Ukrainian athletes.
I apologize for rambling but this all feels not real. Just two weeks ago I was waking up in the middle of the night to watch Olympic races and immediately recording a podcast. Then I spent the whole day distracted from work because I wanted to read more and talk more about the races. How has the world changed this much in so little time?
I’ll never have the answer to that question. Right now though I just want everybody to be safe. I want this war to end right now with no more loss of life. I know that this isn’t necessarily realistic but I don’t care. I choose to be hopeful. I don’t want anymore Russian/Belarussian soldiers to die. I don’t want anymore Ukrainian men and women to be killed unnecessarily. I hope Dmytro Pidruchnyi and his fellow biathletes are able to make it through this okay. I hope that Eduard Latypov and his fellow soldier biathletes are kept out of the war. I hope that those mothers and fathers are able to keep their children safe.
In the meantime the IBU World Cup will continue to race. This weekend the racing will be in Kontiolahti, Finland followed by Otepää, Estonia and finally Oslo, Norway. I will be watching. I’ll in all likelihood be writing articles for this website and we will likely be producing new podcast episodes. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about what is happening in Ukraine. I care deeply. I care to the point that it hurts and I struggle to think about anything else. I apologize in advance if I’m distracted and I don’t answer tweets or emails. I’m conflicted. Please have patience with me. Thank you so much for being a part of my biathlon family.