A box of norwegian delicacies, accusations against Russian athletes, the duel with a teammate for the champion’s title – this and many other things the IBU Cup leader Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen talked about in an exclusive interview.
During the whole season the Norwegian athlete have been storming podiums in various international competitions from European Championships to World Cup. Eight victories and several medals were sure to bring him leadership in the IBU Cup total. However, his accomplishments in sport is not the only thing that draws attention. Last week a photo posted on Instagram of the Norwegian athlete posing in a t-shirt with Vladimir Putin riding a bear became widely discussed in the world of biathlon.
«I got this t-shirt from a friend who went to Pyeongchang to watch my sister [Tiril Sjaastad Christiansen] compete in freestyle. On the way home, he landed in Moscow and bought the t-shirt. Mostly the photo was meant to be a joke. I don’t care much about politics, neither Norwegian nor Russian, but I believe the Russian athletes have received a lot of negativity, especially in skiing and biathlon, so it was some kind of support for them too», – Vetle says.
After the photo was published commentators split up in two groups: some were fond of the creative t-shirt, others believed it was the wrong time to make jokes about Russia and Putin with the current situation in Russian sport. The famous Norwegian biathlete Liv Grete Skjelbreid went off on the post.
«I hope this is just foolery, but it’s not the right time for this type of jokes. Controversial issues are going on in Russia and many of them are not accepted in sport. Some athletes do not feel safe there and they fear to give their doping-test samples. These are serious things and we have to take them seriously», – said the former athlete.
However, the author of the photo does not pay attention to negative comments: «Some were displeased and believed that it’s not the best occasion for such jokes. Those who do not like it should be more easy-going. If I could go back in time, I would still post the photo. I try to take everything around me with some humor. We are very serious about our sport; we have many competitions and preparations, so it’s important to have fun sometimes with a photo on Instagram».
According to the biathlete, it’s wrong to mix sport and politics, and there are not enough evidence in the Russian doping-case to deprive the right to host competitions. Christiansen himself was looking forward to visit Russia once again. In addition, after the IBU Cup final in Khanty-Mansiysk, Vetle will compete in the World Cup 9 in Tyumen.
«I don’t want to mix politics with anything, especially sport. It is our job, we have to train and compete. It’s silly that some countries boycott competitions in Russia. We will certainly not do that. While there are not enough evidence and just speculations, I think Russia has the right to host tournaments. I was looking forward to come here. It is nice to compete here, I like the tracks and the spectators; there are always many fans who cheer not only for the Russian athletes, but also for us from Norway. Russia a great biathlon nation, and the Russians are always very friendly and kind to us», – Vetle says with a smile.
In the lead-up to the IBU Cup final Christiansen ranked on top of the leaderboard and had a big interest for the last competitions. Furthermore, a new kind of race was included in the calendar in Khanty-Mansiysk – the super sprint. An unpredictable competition and a minimal advantage in the total score before a teammate just put an extra intrigue to the season ending.
«The super sprint was very hard and very funny, it’s something totally new. I would be happy if this race would be included in the IBU calendar hereafter. I think the spectators will enjoy watching this more that for instance a 20 km race. I like disciplines where I can interfere with my rivals; it’s much more interesting than running through the woods alone. It’s better to compete shoulder to shoulder and show exiting duels, – said the biathlete after the qualification race. – Being first in the total is a nice bonus, I did not think about it before the season start. But it have been a long time since a Norwegian won the IBU Cup, so winning would have been great. Another Norwegian athlete, Fredrik Gjesbakk, is currently ranking second, and we have a good chance to complete that. We are trying not to think about the scores in our free time, but of course, there is a specific internal struggle. Right now I am in a good shape and everything is up to me. I feel confident about winning the Cup, but this is biathlon, where things change instantly. Suddenly your condition or shooting could turn worse, so it is still possible to catch up with me».
Coming to Khanty-Mansiysk, the Norwegian team always settle into the same cottage, the one nearest to the stadium. You only have to walk a few meters get on the trail. As the biathletes say, this house have become their favorite «Norwegian cottage». As well as equipment, in the luggage the athletes always bring with them something to remind of home. A whole box of eatable reminders.
«We try to add some Norwegian food; therefore we always bring a waffle-iron. When we arrived on Monday, we made waffles and felt a bit like home. That was very cozy. Wherever we go, a big box of brunost [Norwegian brown cheese] and tubes of Norwegian caviar is always coming with us. We also bring Norwegian oatmeal porridge – that is a must», – says Vetle.