This victory in Oestersund marked Tiril Eckhoffs record breaking 13th victory in a single season. Breaking Magdelena Forsberg’s record of 12 victories in the 2000-2001 season. While biathlon fans today are familiar with the bubbly and exciting personality that Tiril is known for, this impressive accomplishment didn’t come easy. In today’s video, we will dive deep into the career of Tiril Eckhoff and see how the record that captivated fans during the 2021 season was an accomplishment of hard work and breaking through personal barriers.
Hopes were high for the young Norwegian athlete. At only 21 years old, Eckhoff had earned some impressive results at the IBU Junior World Championships only weeks prior to her W.C. debut: All of Norway could see the young athlete had a lot of promise and hopes for the future were high. Eckhoff continued to improve on the skis and established herself as one of the fastest skiers on the circuit by the 2013-2014 season and consistently earned in the top 20 results. Eckhoff earned a place on the Norwegian Olympic team and helped the women’s team capture a gold medal in the Sochi relay.
Tiril started off the 2014/15 season with a bang: earning her first world cup win by shooting 90% in the Oestersund Sprint. Despite Eckhoff consistently placing in the top 10 in ski speed and skiing 4.2% faster than the average biathlete, Tiril had a hole in her performance that would hold her back and actually make her finish lower in the standings than the previous season: a 79.4% shooting percentage. And specifically, a 74.1% standing percentage. Six times Tiril would clean her prone stage only to spoil the race with standing misses. In fact, Tiril only cleaned her standing twice during this season, and both times she did that she earned podium finishes. So what was Tirils plan to combat this weakness in her game: Ski faster! This plateau continued for several seasons: It was the same old story of fast skiing, good prone shooting and meltdowns in the standing stages.
Despite her plateau Eckhoff would occasionally excite the norwegian fan base with stellar performances. Most notably, her performance at the 2016 IBU World Championships at her home stadium of Oslo Holmenkollen. In front of the King of Norway, Eckhoff performed at her best winning the Sprint competition with clean shooting and helping the Norwegian Women’s relay team claim victory by bringing the team from 9th to 1st without missing a shot on the third leg.
In 2017 rumors began circulating that Tiril was having some issues with her vision and was focusing on rehabilitating her eyes. She told IBU TV she had “double vision” and spent a lot of time in the summer focusing on what she sees when she looks through the sights.
The results of her hard work began paying off in the 2019/2020 season where she bumped her shooting percentage up to 83% and skied 5.3% faster than the average athlete. This jump in the shooting percentages helped Tiril break through the ceiling and get back into the top 10 overall. Winning 7 races during the season and battled Italy’s Dorothea Wierer for the overall globe through the entire season which was cut due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As mentioned in the beginning of the video, Tiril would go on to win 13 races this season and set a Women’s World Cup record. But the interesting thing about this accomplishment is when you look at her stats on the season, she actually under performed in the key areas that propped her up in previous seasons.
The area that gave Tiril her edge was the one piece that plagued her in the past: her standing shooting. Up a full 10% from the season before, Tiril had honed in the standing targets and was able to close the door on great victories. We see this all too often in biathlon where an athlete ruins a good race with poor standing shooting. And we also see examples of athletes coming back from poor starts to finish strong with good shooting in the later stages.
When you look at the numbers, this concept makes sense. In a typical 12.5k Women’s mass start each lap it takes the fastest skiers approximately 6:20 to ski the 2.5k course, this means at the completion of the last shooting an athlete only has 17.5% of the race remaining to make a comeback if needed. Whereas after the prone shooting 60% of the race remains.
Tiril Eckhoff’s dedication to focusing on her performance weaknesses and ability to break through her results plateau is a lesson for athletes around the world. Sticking with the training, and continuing to work hard can help you achieve new heights. It will be interesting to see if Tiril can continue her success this upcoming season. And it would be exciting to see what she could do if she could combine her new found standing ability with her highest prone percentages of years past.