Safety is paramount when the biathletes go to this year’s only height collection to Lavaze in Italy.
– I have been a mother alone since I left my boyfriend five days ago. Five days without talking to anyone else, says Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen.
In order for everything to go painlessly and corona-free, the biathletes have made several moves.
The national team runners have been isolated five days in advance, sit in a separate group on a plane, have their very own chef who brings all the food from Norway and wears double bandages on the entire journey down.
– We have one bandage that protects us very well, but it is not as good effect for everyone around, so then we have two, so we protect ourselves and everyone else around. We try to make everything as safe as possible now that we travel by plane, says Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold.
Infection control is extremely on the way to the Norwegian biathletes. Christiansen praises the program that has been set up for biathletes to recover from altitude in Italy.
– We received a three-page infection control email a few weeks ago that we had to get thoroughly acquainted with. I think absolutely all precautions have been taken, with pre-insulation, we are not allowed to leave our bubble. We are not allowed to buy food here at Gardermoen or anywhere else, but must lubricate the packed lunch for the entire trip, Christiansen says.
On the way down, practitioners are not allowed to take off their bandages and no one is allowed to leave the rental cars between the airport and the final destination.
– I think we will almost go three weeks now without meeting other people, so I feel pretty confident that this has been done in a very proper way, Christiansen says.
Happy for a chance to rise
While the cross-country national team has dropped all altitude collections and stayed at home in Norway throughout the run-up, the biathletes are now on their way to the Lavaze Pass, just north of Val di Fiemme in South Tyrol.
Where they will live and train in near total isolation, in a separate small hotel they have booked out.
Christiansen, who was on a self-arranged altitude stay in Italy earlier this autumn, says he would have been frustrated if he was a cross-country skier and could not travel to the altitude.
– I think we have chosen a good scheme. Had I been a cross-country skier, I would probably have been a little frustrated. I had probably tried and achieved something on my own then as well, Christiansen says.
Tiril Eckhoff is also looking forward to getting south. She fears the advantage some of her fiercest competitors may have acquired with altitude training through the season run-up.
– I know that the Germans have been driving high all year. We have not done that. I also know that the Italians have been at the height. Now only we who are in Norway do not get to train as well as the foreigners, Eckhoff says to NRK.
Last year, she was just beaten by Italian Dorothea Wierer in the battle for the overall winner of the World Cup. She believes the national team is dependent on altitude training, not only in the short term, but also with a view to the Olympics in Beijing next season.
– I like to think that we have trained well here at home in Norway, but of course we have not been able to do that altitude training. For the Olympics, it is beneficial that we get down to the heights. If you think in longer paths, it is good that we get down, says Eckhoff.
The big fear is that they will take the infection with them on the journey and get an outbreak while they are at altitude. The national team has an agreement with local health authorities that they can be tested for covid immediately in case of suspicion. They also have an appointment with a doctor if other health problems occur during the stay.
Ragnar Hagen is the leader of the health and physiotherapy team at the Norwegian biathletes. He sees the trip as a good preparation and dress rehearsal for how this winter’s travels for the World Cup will unfold.
– This will be a test before the World Cup. We have made a thorough preparation in relation to assessing whether it was advisable to travel at all. When we first decided to travel, we looked at how it was possible to solve it, so then we get in a way tested out what we have planned. Then you do not get planned for everything, but hope to take with us some experiences along the way, says Hagen.
Hagen says that he understands that the cross-country skiers have chosen a different solution than themselves and is open to sharing the experiences they gain on the trip to Italy.
– We have talked a little together, but not much. We have chosen to do it in different ways and that is how it is. We have to see how this goes and then evaluate afterwards, so we can share if it is interesting, says Hagen.