Gold for Sweden in the relay: when biathlon is a family affair – sport
Before the start, Elvira Öberg was nervous for a moment. There aren’t many athletes who are supposed to finish a relay as the last runner at the age of 22. And then at the Olympic Games. So Öberg sought a conversation with her trainer Johannes Lukas, 29. She is someone who wants to know a lot, collects information and only then wants to act. Lukas himself is experiencing his first Olympic Games as head coach. He has known Elvira Öberg’s strengths for three years: She was still going to school, but the coach quickly realized that there would soon have to be a few important discussions in the Öberg family.
At the age of 18, Elvira sat at home in front of the television and watched Hanna Öberg, her big sister, become the individual Olympic champion in Pyeongchang. She too was then: 22. A year later, Hanna also won individual gold at the home World Championships in Östersund – but there were indications that she would soon no longer be the only Öberg that people would be cheering for. “We made sure that both knew: Okay, here comes Elvira, she has potential,” says Johannes Lukas, he made it clear to them: “You will soon no longer just be sisters, but also competitors.” And it looks like the Öbergs can live with it quite well now.
In the first week of these Winter Games, Hanna Öberg shed tears of joy for her little sister: she won silver in the sprint and pursuit in her Olympic debut. “It’s an incredible feeling, now we have two Olympic medal winners in the family, it’s just crazy,” said Elvira. Hanna went away empty-handed until the relay, she lost her ease at the shooting range. But she didn’t begrudge her sister’s success: “She has made huge strides in recent years and I’m very impressed with her.”
Unlike the Russian Latypow, Öberg remains calm as the final runner
On Wednesday afternoon in Zhangjiakou, they ran together to gold in the relay. Hanna handed the lead to Elvira, “Have fun!” she shouted at her as she high-fived.
Just the day before, Eduard Latypow of Russia showed what can go wrong for final runners: two penalties at the last shooting stage, the gold that was thought to be safe was gone. Elvira stayed calm on the shooting range, hit everything in prone, only needed one spare in standing. “I wished I wasn’t the only one coming home with a medal,” she said. She had fought the nervousness with her trainer, he steered the focus away from shooting and towards running. He told her “not to forget that there is only one woman who runs faster than her: Marte Olsbu Röiseland.”
The Norwegian was too far away for gold that day, but it’s true: Elvira was surprisingly fast this season, she’s the one everyone is already fearing on the final lap. And she looks like she’s enjoying the agony, like she has a smile on her face while rushing.
Elvira Öberg only celebrated her first World Cup victory at the beginning of December. Even her trainers are surprised that she has been able to maintain and even improve her level ever since. Johannes Lukas sees the reason for this in the continuous training over the past few years, they have carefully built it up and introduced it to the higher loads. “It was then that she got better every week,” says Lukas, and then one thing was already foreseeable: “That Elvira will be at least as good as Hanna.”
First Wolfgang Pichler coached the Swedes, then Johannes Lukas took over
The Swedish success is a community project. The basis was laid by Wolfgang Pichler, who trained the Swedes full-time until 2019. In 2015 he sifted through the country’s talents and brought them together, eliminating the average players from the squad. All the athletes in the Swedish squad had to move to Östersund. “We’re together at least five days a week,” says Johannes Lukas. Men and women do training camps together, they have the same trainers and physiotherapists. “It’s just a small family that’s traveling,” says Lukas, “there are few teams that I’ve seen that stick together as closely as we do.” On rest days, they eat ice cream together and play golf. “The next day you’re the coach or athlete again, and then you work really hard. There’s a lot of respect for each other’s work.”
Nevertheless, he calls the games in China a “huge burden”, the whole preparation was exhausting, he hasn’t been at home with family and friends for more than six weeks. The Munich player was first assistant coach under Pichler and then took over a highly talented squad of Olympic champions like Öberg, fresh world champions and talents. In Sweden they now expect medals. The golden one of the women also means a lot to Luke. “That’s when you realize that everything you’ve done is worth it,” he says.
But all this should only be the beginning, Elvira Öberg is not yet a finished athlete. “I don’t want to scare the others now,” says Lukas and laughs a bit, he’s also in a fortunate position: “I still have a big list of things that we can develop.”