This might be Andrea Henkel’s swan-song season, but the 35-year-old German biathlete and multiple Olympic gold medalist showed she’s in the hunt for one of her best winters yet – sweeping the opening biathlon races last weekend in Sjusjøen, Norway.
Before the start of her 15th World Cup season, Henkel completed Saturday’s 7.5-kilometer sprint with one penalty and a 27-second win over France’s Marie Dorin Habert. On Sunday, she missed just one target and won the 12.5 k mass start by 9.1 seconds over Ukrainian Valentyna Semerenko.
“I have trained for a few years to get into this kind of shape!” Henkel said with a laugh to NRK on Sunday. “But actually I didn’t feel as good today as I did [Saturday]… I hope I am feeling better for the Olympics, but if I still win there then it doesn’t matter!”
In early October, FasterSkier caught up with Henkel, who was third in last year’s overall International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup. The eight-time world champion – and first biathlete to win a world title in each individual event – was visiting her boyfriend, US Biathlon’s Tim Burke, in Lake Placid, N.Y., for just over two weeks. She said that marked her first time in upstate New York in the fall.
“Usually, I come in summer,” she said while putting her classic rollerskis in Burke’s car after a double-pole workout on the team’s new rollerski loop. For the short stay, she left her rifle at home.
Used to visiting in June and July, Henkel made the trip over earlier this year as well, staying April through May. Now she’s been to the U.S. almost every month except January and December, she said.
“At first, I planned to go to Utah – that was last year – and then I decided in spring I would not go to Utah and would come back to here,” she explained of picking Lake Placid over Soldier Hollow.
“In Utah last year, I felt pretty tired after the traveling and then this altitude and was there for a little bit over two weeks just, too,” she added. “Here I have a little set up already so I don’t have to plan so much. … Everybody is saying it’s so nice in fall.”
After arriving on Sept. 26, she flew back to Germany later in October when the U.S. team left for Soldier Hollow for the final rollerski trials of the season.
Here’s what else Henkel had to say while in Lake Placid:
FS: How have you been feeling, and what have you been working on?
AH: Basically, I’m getting better faster. At the moment I did a lot of intensity, you know, I’m pretty tired doing this, and now I am working on my strength [with double poling], so everyday something to work on.
FS: You had a big intensity block back home?
AH: Already at home and then when I came I just continued and will have another few workouts doing this here. At the moment, I didn’t bring my rifle for this short time because it’s sometimes tricky [with airlines] so I took a shooting break. So I’m kind of [training] by myself. If something works out then I would like to be with the girls or sometimes with the guys to train, but yeah, two weeks is not so long and then I can handle it by myself, too.
FS: Now that you’re gearing up for your fourth Olympics, how meaningful is this one?
AH: This time will be my last time, but also I said last time already this will be my last one.
FS: So you never know?
AH: No. I know. Last time I knew that this will not be my last season. This time I decided that this will be my last season and so it’s a little bit different and more focused I think, and after this I know that it’s over.
FS: How’s your health been and what is your hope for these Olympics?
AH: I am healthy. Everything is working so far and I hope for another medal, of course.
FS: As a team and individually, too? (She won gold in the 15 k individual and with the relay at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.)
AH: The best thing would be both, so I see. At the moment, I just train and hope it works out again.
FS: What is it like to be on a team with several promising younger women?
AH: That’s good. I mean every time pushed the older ones by youngest ones. I was a few years ago, too, and pushed the older ones so this helped everybody and is a little bit congruent in their own team. It’s good to see the young ones are pushing again cause they had a little time – maybe two years – that it didn’t happen this way and now they are back and it’s good.
FS: How did you like racing in Sochi?
AH: I was once fourth [in the 15 k individual last season] … but the track is tricky and I had to change a little bit what I really should do because it’s pretty uphill – the uphills are great. I like that, but the downhills were a little bit too aggressive, I would say. For us girls, it was still fine, but in the guys’ race it was already, like, always night time as late afternoon and it got colder and was freezing and then the course was just not doable anymore for a lot of good skiers. So they should change something up.
FS: Outside of Sochi’s course, what do you think of the whole area?
AH: The area is beautiful. It’s kind of sad to see how many trees just had to go for this. I am sure the athletes will have everything they need … I think for us, it will make a nice Olympics. Everything that’s coming with is maybe not be so nice.
FS: So what’s next, after biathlon? What would you like to do?
AH: I plan on moving one day to the U.S., but at first I have to get all when and how and … I think at first, I need my time to settle down a little and organize myself, my new life. Then I can tell you what I can do.
— Emily Schwing contributed reporting
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.