Note: This is part of an interview series dealing with the sport of biathlon which plays a central role in my novel Bolt Action Remedy.
Please tell us how you first became interested in Biathlon. In many places, it is anything but a mainstream sport.
That’s right it really isn’t a sport that is very popular outside of Norway, Russia and Germany. It is growing however around Europe and also in North America. I first became interested in biathlon when I saw it on TV. The channel Eurosport shows the World Cup and World Championships each winter. I am a huge sports fan anyway so I will pretty much give any sport a chance so when I stumbled across biathlon while flipping channels one day I thought I would watch it and see what it was like. That was maybe around 6 or 7 years ago. If you had asked me what biathlon was before then I wouldn’t have had a clue and now I write a blog about it so it’s fair to say that I liked what I saw!
You have a wonderful Biathlon blog called Biathlon23. Why did you start it and is the biathlon blog community fairly small?
Thanks for saying that it’s wonderful! I would like to make it clear that no money exchanged hands for that opinion! I always had it in the back of my mind to write a blog based on sport. I love a lot of sports and follow football (soccer), tennis, cycling, motorbike racing (Moto GP) quite closely and I watch a lot of others sports too. When I decided to take the plunge and start blogging I did a little research first and quickly discovered that the sports I mentioned earlier are very popular things to blog about. Faced with lots of competition in those areas I looked into biathlon and found out that although there were some bloggers there was space for another. There are quite a lot of blogs that are specific to their countries like Germany and then the press in Norway and Russia are all over biathlon but in the English speaking world there were only a few blogs. Actually in the last two years there were two really popular blogs that have had to stop so hopefully I can corner the market! I cover all biathletes from all countries so I get readers from everywhere. I also try not to be super serious either and like to put some fun things alongside the interviews and race reports. My own awards have proved to be very popular and are usually the most read posts on my blog.
You are a volunteer writer for the International Paralympic Committee. Tell us about that.
I had been considering volunteering in one way or another for some time when I saw an advert on a sports website asking for volunteer writers for the IPC. I thought I would send them a few posts from my blog but I never really expected to hear anything back. One email and a phone call later and suddenly I was working for the IPC covering cross-country skiing and biathlon. I love doing it. I get to interview some amazing athletes. I mean imagine doing Nordic sports when you are missing a limb or have very limited or no vision. It’s remarkable. Recently I have interviewed US army veteran Andy Soule who is the most decorated American Nordic skier. He lost his legs when an IED exploded next to him when he was serving in Afghanistan. I also got to interview Oksana Masters who was affected by the Chernobyl disaster, abandoned by her birth mother and was adopted and moved to America when she was young. It just shows you that amid all the money involved in sport and all the scandals with doping it can still be a force for good.
What is it about the sport of biathlon that drew you to it?
There are many things that drew me to biathlon. First, it is a really exciting sport. Things can change all the time so it’s really unpredictable. It’s the shooting that makes it that way. In other sports the fastest person usually wins most of the races like in cross-country skiing or athletics. With biathlon the fastest person might get to the first shoot quickest but they can also be the last person to leave the range. Sometimes you think a biathlete has the race in the bag and then they mess up a shoot and finish 10th!
The conditions also play a big part in the races. For example in the Sprint race the biathletes set off at intervals so there can be around an hour between the first person to start and the last one. In winter this can mean starting in a blizzard or strong winds and then your competitor starts with no snow and no wind. It’s the luck of the draw.
I love the head to head races too. The Pursuit and Mass Starts are amazing to watch. The lead can change so often in one race and people can fight back from way down the field and others can fall from the top to the bottom very quickly.
The fact that it is such a difficult sport makes the biathletes such impressive sportspeople. Cross-country skiing is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, sport. Add to that the difficulty of stopping to shoot up to four times at targets fifty meters away that are the size of a golf ball when you are completely exhausted then you see the challenge that it presents. Then you have to do up to three or four races in the space of as many days.
It’s not really like other sports as it involves two disciplines that are so different from each other in one race. The massive physical exertion of skiing and the mental skill to be able to shoot make it a fascinating thing to watch.
I would like to make it clear that attractive people in tight ski suits is NOT the reason I love biathlon so much.
You have interviewed plenty of biathletes. What interviews have been your favorites?
Wow this is a really tough question. I am still in a state of disbelief that biathletes actually do interviews for me so I love them all for doing it! However there are some that stick in my memory. The first ever interview I did on the blog was with US biathlete Maddie Phaneuf and I was so excited that she did it so she has to get a mention. The Canadians have been amazing and have done quite a lot of interviews for me as have the Brits. In particular I have to say Scott Dixon from Great Britain has been fantastic. He has done two interviews for my blog and they are really detailed and interesting and give a proper insight into what it’s like being a biathlete from a smaller nation with little funding. I know he would do many more if I ask.
The funniest interview has to be the one I did with another American Clare Egan. She was hilarious and even added some questions of her own to the interview and answered them. If only they would all do that! The most emotional for me was one I did with a young Norwegian biathlete Martin Femsteinevik where he spoke about having leukemia as a child and how biathlon helped him through it and how he wanted to get well again so he could be the best biathlete in the world.
One question I always ask is if the biathletes give their rifle a name. Most of them don’t which is weird as it’s the first thing I would do even before learning to shoot it! Lena Haecki of Switzerland is one of the few who does so I have to list her and Giorgio (the rifle) as a favorite.
When I first started the interviews it was mainly with junior biathletes as I thought they would be more likely to do them (I was right!). Now some of them are starting their careers on the World Cup and it’s really good to see them doing so well. Let’s just hope they remember the little people when they are big stars!
Have you attended many live Biathlon events? If so, what has that been like?
Not yet, unfortunately. I would love to go but money, work and logistics tend to get in the way. The very nature of the sport means it usually has to take place in remoter locations in the mountains somewhere to get the snow. That means quite a complicated journey in most cases which can be expensive and time consuming. I mean some biathletes struggle with the funding to travel to all the races never mind me.
I will get there eventually even if it’s just to meet all my new internet biathlon friends. I have to make sure they are real! When you watch the races on TV the fans always look like they are having a great time. On the other hand I think you get to see more of the action on the TV and if I want to write about the races I really should know what has happened!
Any big plans for your blog since the Winter Olympics are coming up in 2018?
No! I didn’t know that I needed any until you asked me that question! Now the panic is setting in! I might do something but I have no ideas at the moment. If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them. Obviously next year’s interviews will be focused more on the Olympics and the preparations for those. Generally things just pop into my head randomly so hopefully I will come up with something.
The name of your blog, Biathlon23, is interesting. Tell us why you picked that name.
I chose the name because all the other ideas I had were already being used like biathlonworld, biathlon news etc. So I decided to use my favorite number. In a rare moment of inspiration I thought it would be fun to follow the biathlete in each race who wears bib23 and support them. As I try not to have any favorite biathletes and treat them all the same as a blogger it means I can support different biathletes in every race and not feel guilty! I tally up all the points from biathlete23 at the end of the season to see how my fictional biathlete compares to the real ones. Last season Martin Fourcade won the Individual race in the World Championships wearing bib23 so I am claiming a bit of that gold medal as my own. Some of the biathletes have also picked up on it and Brendan Green from Canada was kind enough to send me a photo of his bib when he was number 23 in the Sochi Olympics which literally made my month. I used it as my profile picture for about a year!
Thanks to Louise for taking the time to speak with me.
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a Thriller Award finalist which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Watch for my new book, BOLT ACTION REMEDY, in October 2017!
Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: Skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated.
Galloway makes plenty of enemies as he sifts through stories about lucrative land deals, possible drug connections, and uncovers evidence suggesting the homicide may have been elaborate suicide. As he attempts to navigate through an unfamiliar rural landscape, he does his best not to succumb to an old drug addiction, or become confused by one of his occasional hallucinations. Oh, and a Pittsburgh drug gang enforcer known as The Lithuanian—if he’s even real—is tracking Galloway and wants to take his eyes. Galloway would rather keep those.
In Bolt Action Remedy, the typically quiet streets of Washaway Township, Pennsylvania become the epicenter of a mystery involving elite athletes and old grudges. For Galloway, the problems keep piling up and somebody out there believes problems should be dealt with by employing the most permanent of remedies.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology