OSTERSUND, Sweden (Reuters) – Swedish biathelte Sebastian Samuelsson showed nerves of steel at the Pyeongchang Olympics to win gold in relay and silver in the men’s pursuit and is hoping to rediscover his best shooting form in time for the Beijing Games after a tough couple of seasons.
The outspoken 24-year-old went through something of a slump after his 2018 triumphs but bounced back to take two silver and two bronze medals at the 2021 World Championships, rekindling his Olympic dreams.
“I took two medals in the last Olympics and after that I think I struggled a little bit in the first two years with my performances,” he told Reuters as the Sweden team gathered in Ostersund to train.
“It was good, but it was not the great results that I hoped for. I have struggled with that and I think it also comes with a lot of pressure on myself.
“I feel now, four years later, maybe I’ve grown into this costume a little bit better and this season so far has worked very good for me so I’m hoping to fight for the medals again,” he said.
Nowhere is the pressure more apparent in biathlon than when shooting, as athletes try to slow their pulse and breathing so they can hit the tiny targets 50 metres away.
“For us it’s very important to change between skiing and shooting because skiing is so much adrenaline and you have to push a lot and you stress yourself ‘faster, faster’ the whole time, but when you get into the shooting range suddenly you need to be calm and do things methodically,” he added.
Samuelsson and his team mates swish across the packed snow, gliding in and lying in a prone position before rattling off their five shots and skiing off again for another lap.
“I just try to focus on how I should do, how I take my rifle off, how I prepare, and just then take one shot at a time and not try to think that much about if I hit or not,” he said.
On the practice range with the rest of the team, there are no signs of any nerves or pressure from the smiling Samuelsson as the team make their final preparations.
“I remember in Pyeongchang, the last time, suddenly I was fighting for the medals and for me it was such an unrealistic feeling, so maybe that made it a little bit easier,” he says.
“I think now, coming into Beijing, I know I can win a medal, and maybe that will make it a little bit harder on the shooting range, but also it gives you confidence.”
The Beijing Games, which run from Feb. 4-21, bring the added problem of a COVID-19 bubble that will see movements of athletes restricted, as well as a regimen of daily testing which may make it difficult for the likes of Samuelsson to pass the time.
“I will buy some good books, I think. When I was younger I read a lot, but after that I got into the Netflix era so now I will try to be a bit smart and read again, and maybe some games and some TV series as well,” he said.
Samuelsson has spoken out about everything from doping to human rights in the past, but with the Games approaching, he now wants to concentrate on the sport.
“(Speaking out is) important, but now it’s so close to the Olympics so I just want to focus on my sporting achievements and hope to do good races, even though it’s in China,” he added.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)