Germany’s Herrmann Makes the Switch to Biathlon

Harald ZimmerApril 27, 2016
Germany's Sandra Ringwald (2) and Denise Herrmann (9) go head-to-head with American Sophie Caldwell (3) during the 1.2 k classic sprint at Stage 4 of the Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany. (Photo: Marcel Hilger)
Germany’s Denise Herrmann (9) races alongside teammate Sandra Ringwald (2) and American Sophie Caldwell (3) during Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany. (Photo: Marcel Hilger)

On Wednesday, German cross-country World Cup skier Denise Herrmann announced a new chapter in her athletic career at age 27: a switch to biathlon.

“This step and the timing is certainly surprising to many, but I have pondered these thoughts for a while now,” Hermann stated in a German Ski Federation press release and in a post on her Facebook page. “I owe a lot to cross-country skiing, it was a great time with many highlights, but now I want to face new goals. The switch to a new discipline will be a big challenge, I am aware of that, but I am confident that I can do it with diligence, courage, and determination!”

American Jessie Diggins, in the 2013 World Championships winners bib, chases Germany's Denise Herrmann in the women's 6 x 1.2 k freestyle sprint final on Sunday at 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden. Second in their semifinal, the U.S. placed eighth in the final and Germany was fourth behind Norway, Sweden and Poland, respectively. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)
Germany’s Denise Herrmann (11) leads American Jessie Diggins (in white) in the women’s 6 x 1.2 k freestyle sprint final at 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden. Germany finished fourth behind Norway, Sweden and Poland, respectively, while the U.S. placed eighth. (Photo: FlyingPointRoad)

The German Ski Federation (DSV) wants to support Herrmann in her new career direction.

“Denise has been one of our most important performers in cross-country skiing for many years,” DSV director of sports Karin Orgeldinger said in the press release. “She will surely leave a gap there. On the other hand, we are happy that Denise is looking for a new challenge in biathlon, so she will remain available to the German Ski Federation as an elite athlete.”

Professional cross-country skiing and biathlon are both organized under the same association in Germany, not in separate entities as is the case in the U.S. or Canada. The press release did not include comments from a biathlon coach or team manager.

Herrmann made her debut in the FIS Cross-Country World Cup in February 2009. Mostly known as a sprinter, she earned bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with the German women’s 4 x 5 k relay, and was second overall in the Sprint World Cup at the conclusion of the 2013/2014 season. She achieved six individual World Cup podiums plus two in team sprints, and twice finished the overall World Cup in ninth place (2013/2014 and 2014/2015). She narrowly missed a medal at World Championships, placing fourth in the team sprint at the 2015 championships in Falun, Sweden, as her best result. At the end of last season (2015/2016), Herrmann finished 12th in the Sprint World Cup and 23rd in the overall standings.

While it can be considered a bold step for a successful cross-country skier to switch disciplines to biathlon in the middle of her career, it is certainly not unheard of, and even the German Ski Federation has seen several athletes make the transition back and forth.

Herrmann is good friends with and a summer training partner of Maren Hammerschmidt and Vanessa Hinz, both current members of the German national biathlon team. Similar to Herrmann, Hinz also switched from cross-country skiing in 2012. A 2002 and 2010 Olympic gold medalist, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle switched from cross-country to biathlon toward the end of her career for the 2012/2013 season, before retiring after the 2014 Olympics following a positive doping test. Miriam Gössner, another member of the current biathlon national team, earned silver medals with German cross-country women’s relay teams early in her career at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Harald Zimmer

Harald has been following cross-country skiing and biathlon for some 20 years since the Olympic Winter Games in Albertville and Lillehammer. A graduate of Middlesex University London and Harvard University, he now lives near the Alps where he likes to go skiing, snowboarding and hiking. He is a former track athlete in middle-distance running, as well as a huge NBA fan.

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