Interview with Magdalena Neuner

16.03.2008, Holmenkollen / om KLEIN, Jürgen PALME, productions
“I’ve always been two steps ahead…”

She only turned 21 last month, but Magdalena Neuner has alreadywon almost everything a biathlete can win. The super fast skier is a six times World Champion, she has eleven World Cup victories on her account and since Sunday she’s the youngest Biathlon World Cup champion of all times. The next goal is already in sight: a medal at the Olympic Games in Vancouver 2010. Magdalena, you’ve already gained so much and you’re only 21. Isn’t that giving you the creeps sometimes?

Magdalena Neuner: Somehow, I’ve always been two steps ahead. I just noticed that there was more to me, since my aims have always been higher than those of others. An example: When I was 13 I knew I was going to be a professional sportswoman. Back then, my teachers laughed at me, saying: Doesn’t everybody want to be a pop star or top athlete? Then, when I was 16, I was two times Junior World Champion. Anyway, one could always see that I was a good skier but – believe it or not – I used to be a good shooter too. But I’m pretty aware that I’m still so young. Sometimes I wake up and think: It just can’t be true. I’m very grateful for what I’ve already experienced and seen. Many biathletes don’t reach their climax until their mid or rather late 20s, early 30s. How come, you’re so strong so early? Many of your direct competitors are just the same age you are – is that a general development in biathlon?

Magdalena Neuner: I already started biathlon when I was nine. Martina Glagow, for instance, was 14 when she began, that’s when I had already five years experience. Nowadays, biathlon development in the kids and junior stages is on a very professional level. There is a lot of talent in Germany, Norway or Russia. Those who finally make it through to the World Cup then belong to the best. When success comes so early and in such amounts – does that mean that you will stop doing biathlon just as early? Since there are no more goals to reach?

Magdalena Neuner: It’s not like that I have to be on top of the podium all the time to be happy. Biathlon just is my profession and I like to travel with the biathlon family. Of course, objectives change. When I was younger, I dreamt of becoming a member of the World Cup team, getting of these posh, red sponsor cars, being famous, giving away autograph cards etc. When I had that, I aimed for new goals: A World Championships medal, the overall World Cup, an Olympic medal. Goals change over time. But you have already reached most of these goals. There can’t be that much more to come.

Magdalena Neuner: I believe, hope, that I will be able to steadily improve over a long term period. But then, it could be just as well that I stop early. Actually, that was a topic I spoke about with my physio on the massage bench yesterday. I said to him: I’ll do two Olympic Games and then that’s it. As a woman one might eventually think of having kids. That’s if you have the right kind of guy, of course. I would like to have children but not when I’m 35 or so. But then, who knows what’s going to happen in the future. What could possibly happen?

Magdalena Neuner: I’ve always said that when I quit biathlon, I’ll be out of the business. Not like, say, Uschi Disl or Sven Fischer who now work as TV experts. I just want to see and experience a lot of other things. Let’s change from the future to present. What are your next goals? Win a 15 km Individual competition. Or even the small globe in the Individual discipline score? That’s something even Ole Einar Bjoerndalen never achieved. In the Individual, it’s shooting that counts…

Magdalena Neuner: Yep, that could be something. In Pokljuka I was so close to a victory in the Individual. I had shot three clean sessions and could even have allowed myself three penalty minutes in the final standing position. Then I missed four times. Many people tell me to better become a cross country specialist. But I don’t let them drive me mad. I just want to gain further experience. Martina Glagow has won the small globe in the Individual World Cup and I feel really happy for her. She had big troubles with her skis this season and she wasn’t going all to well on the tracks. But she’s an excellent shooter. And so she got her reward there. What kind of qualities does a good biathlete need to make it to the very top? What have you got that others don’t have?

Magdalena Neuner: You need ambition and a good fighting spirit. Well, ambition has sort of a negative connotation. Grit is what you need, that’s the better word. You have to be able to keep going even when the going gets tough. You have to be able to take and overcome pain. When you’re doing 30-40 kilometers every day in summer training – that’s not always fun. A lot of good sports professional have the ability to earn success. I’m more on the lucky side; I have a lot of talent. And at my age I don’t have to train as much as, say, Andrea Henkel. And just as important: you need to have a good environment, parents who support you. Did it always flow smoothly with your parents?

Magdalena Neuner: Well, when I was 13 I told them: I’ve no time for school, I want to do sport. Then I had to decide myself: do I want to finish school after tenth grade or go on and graduate? I’ve always been good in school, I could have easily done so but I just didn’t want it. How important is your family for you?

Magdalena Neuner: The most beautiful moments in life are and have always been those with my family, like when I’m home on a Sunday and it’s all just peace, love and harmony. For example when we hike up to a mountain cabin. I hardly get to do that anymore, unfortunately, I just don’t have the time. Other teenagers would have said: hiking with the family on Sunday? How stuffy can it get, especially when you’re 13, 14 ...

Magdalena Neuner: I’m just really family-oriented. And when I was that age, I was already away from home for about half a year at a time. You learn to value what you don’t have. I’ve been feeling that way even more strongly since I moved into my own place. I’m so glad that I actually do manage sometimes to go up to a cabin with my mother on a weekday evening, both of us with a headlamp. And what role does the German team play with regard to your success? The squad is pretty dominant. Does that help?

Magdalena Neuner: That’s a pretty comfortable situation for us, especially in the women‘s team. If you manage to win a practice competition, then you know that you are among the best in the world. But that also means that our camps are really tough because we really push each other. The spring session on Ibiza, for example, is all about cycling, and everybody really lets loose on the timed mountain stages. Show competitions like the World Team Challenge on Schalke are getting increasingly popular. What do you think about them?

Magdalena Neuner: Personally, I’m not much of a show competitor, but others see it differently. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, for example, really loves them. I feel much the same way about the roller ski competitions in the summer. Schalke is great, of course, but it is also quite a lot of stress in the middle of the season. The biggest problem is that your health is at risk, you can catch a cold pretty easily. You stand around quite a bit in the stadium when you are already sweaty and wait for your next turn. Biathletes get a lot of money if they start there, but it sure isn’t all about the money.

Pictures by Christian Manzoni