Armin Auchentaller: Season Preview

A record five women and four men will open the BMW IBU World Cup at Kontiolahti in late November. U.S. Biathlon Team head coach Armin Auchentaller takes a look inside the team which blends veterans and rookies, and sizes up the season ahead. It's a great interview to learn about Auchentaller's background from his childhood in Antholz to his work for over a decade with the U.S. Biathlon Team.

S3 Ep5 - Armin Auchentellar

Tom Kelly: [00:00:00] And today, Heartbeat is taking you to the heart of Vuokatti. Finland. The training camp for the US biathlon team. Armin Auchentaller, the head coach for the men's and the women's team. Armin, thank you for joining us on Heartbeat.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:00:13] Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Tom Kelly: [00:00:16] So tell us about the conditions in Vuokatti. It sounds like training has been going very well.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:00:21] Yeah, well, Vuokatti has provided a lot of manmade snow from last season, from the snow farming. And we had since [00:00:30] we arrived to Finland, nine kilometers, nine K of mammoth snow. And it's it's it was awesome. Made it look like it looks like it was one of the better places in Scandinavia this season. So we were very lucky to choose, actually, this place to go to.
Tom Kelly: [00:00:49] Tell us a little bit about the snow farming for folks who might not understand this. This is actually snow that has been preserved from last season. How does that work?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:00:59] Yeah, [00:01:00] they produced the snow over the over the winter. Of course, when temperatures are are the right ones and deep. So they produce it and they they make a huge snow pile. They cover it with wood, wood chips, wet chips, and basically they cover it also with a special material and preserve it over the summer. And once it's time, usually [00:01:30] here in Vuokaiit in Finland, they put the snow out around the end of October to make sure that people can train and ski early, fairly early on.
Tom Kelly: [00:01:43] Do you have other teams training in Vuokatti right now? I imagine that the whole world is looking for good tracks to to ski on.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:01:50] Yeah, actually, we had the German biathlon World Cup team here, man and woman. So we had actually good training conditions along with them. And [00:02:00] our athletes actually could ski with them and look what they do. And so was the Japanese team was here. Some Ukrainians are here. It's it's a good training environment.
Tom Kelly: [00:02:14] Good and training has been going well for the team.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:02:17] Trains is going really well. So far. We have done good work. Last weeks, ten days and everything is [00:02:30] going in a good direction.
Tom Kelly: [00:02:31] So far. Good. Well, let's talk about your background, Armin. You've recently taken over as both the head men's and women's coach. You've been with the U.S. team a couple of times and we'll get to that. But let's go back to your growing up in Italy. You had the great opportunity to grow up and really the heart of biathlon in Antholz, Italy. Tell us about growing up and how you initially pursued your passion as an athlete in biathlon.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:02:57] Basically, I started skiing for three [00:03:00] years and until we have slopes, the alpine slopes, but close by, But we have also a lot of cross-country, cross-country possibilities. And then around around when I was like eight or nine years old, I started basically with cross-country skiing and with nine, ten years around there. I don't remember actually. Well, it's a long time ago, but that's where I started with biathlon [00:03:30] early on, early on.
Tom Kelly: [00:03:32] Good. And how did you progress as an athlete? What level did you reach?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:03:36] I reached a national team level and I raised my last two years on the European Cup, which is the IBU Cup from from the modern times. So that's where where I ended up and was not a long career, but career with a lot of experiences, good experiences, which [00:04:00] I can use now as a coach.
Tom Kelly: [00:04:03] How did you make it into coaching? I know a lot of athletes choose to go that route. Was this something that you had wanted to do to become a coach and to lead others with the experience that you'd gained in your career?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:04:14] Actually, my former coach wanted to stop coaching and he just when I stopped, he just basically said, Hey, you should you should look into coaching and I want to stop and you should take take over, take over the whole [00:04:30] ski club. Back then it was the ski club for a months and give it a try. He thought I would do well, and I said, I'm not really sure, but we can. We can give it a shot. And here I am still still working on. That was back in 1992. So basically really is 30 years in coaching.
Tom Kelly: [00:04:51] One of your big breaks, I think was when you actually had an opportunity in 2009 to come and be a shooting coach for us. Biathlon. How did that come [00:05:00] to pass and what was your experience in the five years that you coached in with the American team?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:05:06] It was an amazing time. I mean, I got to know awesome people, different, different country to work with and different athletes, different mentality. I learned a lot along the way. It was it was a really, really, really good time.
Tom Kelly: [00:05:28] And then tell us about [00:05:30] your career. There was a gap where you coach to elsewhere. Tell us a little bit about that period from 2014 until you returned to the U.S. in 2018 and 2014.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:05:42] I was asked from the Swiss biathlon team to be the head coach for the women there, and I did that for four years. I led that group to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and we had also there were really, really good, [00:06:00] really good times, also some good results. And basically we we built up a team which was not existing before it was there was no official women's team. In 2014. They created that team and I had the chance to, to work with them and yeah, get some get some good results in the end.
Tom Kelly: [00:06:22] And in 2018 you had an opportunity to return to America to coach the women's team. Was that an opportunity that you really [00:06:30] welcomed to come back to America and coach with the U.S. Biathlon Team?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:06:34] Yeah, definitely. There was still a lot of people I knew from before and and it was a pleasure to come back and it was like an honor to be asked again if I would join the team and really appreciate the the offer they made and to come back actually, and I didn't hesitate. I just said, okay, let's do it.
Tom Kelly: [00:06:59] In these past [00:07:00] four years, you really oversaw several generations of U.S. Women's Biathletes Susan Dunklee ultimately retiring from her career, a whole new crew of people coming through. How would you characterize the women's team over the last four years?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:07:21] The last four years we had. A couple of great results, I would say. I mean, with different with different people starting [00:07:30] from Susan Dunklee's medal at the World Championships in Antholz. Luckily, at my home, that was really nice. Really nice side effect to do it at the World Championships in athletes. Clare Egan's podium in in the mass start in Holmenkollen was also a big achievement. And then Joanne Reid, who had in her season the 10th place in a master and a 15th place in the sprint. Really, [00:08:00] really good results also for her. And last but not least, Deirdre Irwin with a seventh place which resulted in being the best, best Olympic result from from American ever, ever done so far.
Tom Kelly: [00:08:20] So let's look ahead to Kontiolahti. The World Cup begins on the 29th of November. You have an unprecedented five women's starts. [00:08:30] And let's start with the women's team. You've never before had five women starting this season for the four, the US biathlon team. Can you give us a rundown on first of all, how did it come about that you ended up with those five starts? And who are the five that we can look for on the starting line in cocktail party next week for the women?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:08:48] Yeah, we have the first time in in history we have five start, but we have also to be fair and honest we would have probably only four. [00:09:00] It's just because Russia and Russia got a start. Yes, I would say so. We would we would actually start with four. But nonetheless, it's a first. It's a first. And we try to use this opportunity to give people a chance. We will have three, three ladies starting the first time in their career on the World Cup, which is Kelsey Dickinson, Chloe Levins and [00:09:30] Tara Geraghty, Moats with the two, I would say experienced Joanne Reid and Deidra Irwin on their side. So those are the five who will start in Kontiolahti.
Tom Kelly: [00:09:45] The result from Deidra Irwin at the Olympics. We had her on the Heartbeat podcast a few weeks ago, was really an amazing step. She comes from my home state of Wisconsin, so I'm very proud of her. But she's really made [00:10:00] big progress now over the last two seasons.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:10:03] Yeah. She works really, really hard, I must say. And she is committed and tries to challenge herself every single day. And I think she is even more hungry than ever after this result from last season. And I think she she is aware that she can do even more than that. And I see her in training very motivated to do to do the next [00:10:30] step and push the limits even more than she did she ever did.
Tom Kelly: [00:10:35] So she and Joanne Reid now are essentially the elder statesmen on the team. They are the veterans, even though they are both relatively early in their career. But how important is it to have athletes like Deidre? And I would say probably particularly Joanne, because she has a little bit more time on the World Cup. How important is that for the newcomers, Kelsey, Chloe and Tara, who are making their World [00:11:00] Cup debuts?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:11:02] It's always important to have like more experienced people on the ground because it's just the experience, the daily experience you need to gather over the years. And it's easy for for veterans column veterans to to pass those experiences along. And it was the same for Joanne and Deidra when Susan was still on the circuit and she would, you know, pass [00:11:30] her experience from past years to them. And it's always helpful to have like an experienced athlete on the ground, on the team to to kind of kind of lead kind of lead the the team into those very important races.
Tom Kelly: [00:11:51] Sure. Let's talk a little bit about Chloe Levins. We had her on the Heartbeat podcast recently, a very tough situation for her last year. [00:12:00] Her career was on an upward trajectory and then all of a sudden complications from COVID took her out from the season. She looked to have a great camp in Soldier Hollow. How has she been skiing and how excited is she about the opportunity to get a World Cup start this year?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:12:17] She's very excited, I must say. And she she had a hard time last season and it was very unfortunate just before the season to, you know, get hit pretty heavily, I would say, from from [00:12:30] COVID, which took her out for a couple of months. But she she she recovered well, She she did her training. She did she does the job every single day and tries to to fight back. And she got paid off now. And she can actually start on the World Cup now. And she started here and work out quite well. She's working hard. And for her for now [00:13:00] it's very important to to to raise actually to raise, to collect experiences, to collect a lot of different situations. And yeah, make sure that this is going to help her for the upcoming seasons.
Tom Kelly: [00:13:19] Let's talk a little bit about Kelsey Dickinson. She comes out of that Craftsbury Green Racing Project program in Vermont. She has been working her way up for the IBU Cup. [00:13:30] This to for her a big moment for her and her career to step up to the World Cup start line.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:13:37] Yeah she's she's she's very professional she's she does her work she's always willing to or trying to improve little things and she also is at the moment I would say pretty calm. Pretty calm. She she knows that she has worked quite well over the summer. She worked [00:14:00] a lot with Mike Gibson in Craftsbury, which was her main like a main mentor for the training season. And I think she she has done a good work for to prepare for for the season. Then we will see where it where where we end up. But it's also for her it's important to to raise those World Cup races and get a lot of experience and [00:14:30] go from there.
Tom Kelly: [00:14:31] Finally on the women's side, let's talk about Tara Geraghty Moats. Tara, for those who may not know her background, she had skied biathlon some years ago and then moved into Nordic combined was the leading women's Nordic combined athlete in the world, and then two years ago decided that she was going to make her play back in biathlon and hope to make that next Olympic team in coming up in 2026. Tara Geraghty Moats all of a sudden has worked her way up after two [00:15:00] years and she's getting a World Cup start.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:15:04] Yeah she's a multi talent. She she worked with different sports starting from ski jumping to Nordic combined. She I think she was also a good mountain biker and she did already a little bit of biathlon a couple couple couple seasons ago and she just came back and. Worked hard to be here and yeah. She needs [00:15:30] also to collect some experience on this, on this level. But I'm pretty confident with the attitude she has and the commitment she has that she will be important part of the team going on from here.
Tom Kelly: [00:15:49] Great. Let's move on now to the men's team. Four men will be starting in County L.A. Do you want to give us a rundown of the four athletes that we'll be able to watch coming up on November 29th?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:16:00] Sean [00:16:00] Doherty, Jake Brown. Maxime Germaine and Vaclav Cervenka. Those will those will be the four and control party. It's a good mix between some rookies and some veterans, so unfortunately we cannot count on Paul Schommer. He would have been qualified. Right now he's an injured. He [00:16:30] has a little problem on his knee, but he's in rehab right now and tries to be back for the next workups to come in December.
Tom Kelly: [00:16:43] And is he rehabbing back in the United States?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:16:46] He's rehabbing back in the United States right now in Colorado. They're doing a good job and the medications hopefully work well for him. And we're pretty confident he's going [00:17:00] to be back pretty soon.
Tom Kelly: [00:17:02] Well, let's go through the men's lineup. And first of all, the two veterans here, Jake Brown and Shaun Dougherty, give us a little background on them as they come in to yet another World Cup season.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:17:13] I think Sean Doherty is ready to race, actually. He's ready to race. He gave me a good feedback the other day after the intensity. He was like really happy with with the things, how the things are going for him physically and from the shooting side. So it's just [00:17:30] a matter of time in the next couple of weeks when he actually can actually. Have some good success. I'm pretty confident about that. And the same is for Jake Brown. I think he is in shape. He looks good on skis. He improved the shooting and the training. He just has to do it in a race now. And I'm pretty, pretty confident also for him that he can actually have some really, really, really good results to.
Tom Kelly: [00:18:00] Let's [00:18:00] move on now to Vaclav and Maxime. Both of them have been in World Cup before last year, but really are the rookies in the group. Give us a little background on Vaclav and Maxim.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:18:12] For Russia. And Maksim, it's really about the same like for Kelsey, Tara and and Chloe. They need to to raise they need to, you know, get experience through racing, what it takes, what it means, what [00:18:30] how it feels and all those things actually to raise between among the along the big names and but those those two guys are very promising for the future.
Tom Kelly: [00:18:47] And it's interesting.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:18:48] They have a lot of talent. And the federation, I think, believes a lot in their skills.
Tom Kelly: [00:18:56] It's interesting, too, to see that three of your four men and I should also [00:19:00] add, Deidre Irwin are coming out of the National Guard project. How has that been working and what opportunities is that presenting for those athletes to get that kind of base training that they need to be successful?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:19:12] The National Guard actually is very, very important, very important partner for us, for USDA, and we have a really good cooperation with them. There is a good communication and having the National Guard, they have a really good program, I must [00:19:30] say, with Travis Royer and Dru Gelinas leading that program. We are really happy to have those guys and that they actually can, you know, give those athletes the chance to have a good training environment once they are not with us on training camps and support them in a good way, but also not just training, but also financial part is like a good, good support for them. And [00:20:00] the cooperation with them, like I said, is is just you cannot wish for more.
Tom Kelly: [00:20:07] Let's move on and talk about the calendar for the Ibu biathlon World Cup coming up with the start of November 29th to December 4th in Canton, Lahti, Finland. What are some of the highlights on the calendar as you look ahead over the next few months on the World Cup?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:20:22] Yeah, of course. The highlight is Oberhof. Oberhof is going to be like always. The highlight is the [00:20:30] World Championships and this season we have them in Oberhof in February. We're going to prepare them just before and I'm told we will have a training camp there. And of course it's historically the US is is trying to have also other good results. It's not that we don't take the other other World Cups as like easy. We want to succeed in every in every single World Cup where [00:21:00] what you get you can get that's it's pretty easy. So we are happy with everything we get. But how do you what championships is always a highlight?
Tom Kelly: [00:21:11] How do you manage the peaking of athletes when you have a world championships that falls right in the midst of your World Cup calendar? So you're going week to week to World Cups and all of a sudden you have one that takes on this additional significance. How do you manage the peaking of athletes?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:21:29] The peaking. [00:21:30] The peaking is a very it's a very different, very difficult story. I mean, there is a lot of things hoo hoo needs to be in place. First of all, you need to be healthy. That's the main factor. And then you need to have like a good base. You need to have really good experience leading into those world championships and the main the [00:22:00] highlights of the season, it's just there's so many factors coming in. You need to be in a good mental mental house, not just the physical part is important. The mental health is also important. You need to feel feel kind of comfortable with what you're doing. You need to believe in your in your plan. You need to believe in yourself. You need to believe in in and trust the people who work with you around you just to put yourself in a [00:22:30] in a situation where you where you have trust to actually succeed.
Tom Kelly: [00:22:37] Yeah, I know. It's a challenge with a busy schedule as it is. So you have announced your starters for the opening World Cups and cocktail party. How long is that period? And is there another point getting into January where you will potentially have some changes in that lineup?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:22:54] I mean, changes can always happen. Changes can always happen as never. Nobody's really [00:23:00] secure the whole time. But those we have on the World Cup right now are the best shots for sure. I hope that Paul Shurmur can come back because he has he's he has a pre qualified status, so waiting for him. But changes are always possible. The next ones, big ones which can happen after trials in Prestbury which are in December. And from there [00:23:30] some people can move up to the World Cup or to the Ibo Cup and do international races.
Tom Kelly: [00:23:37] Just one final question before we start to wrap things up. Let's take a look at the other teams. Is there any other team that you're really looking at this year or any individual athletes, men or women that we should be watching for as really top contenders on the World Cup?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:23:52] Top contenders are Norway, France, Sweden, Germany. [00:24:00] I would say those are the the four countries to look at. And every every of those every everybody of those countries has like. Top, top shots. And this is those are the countries to look at.
Tom Kelly: [00:24:16] Cool. Well, I appreciate all of your insights. We're going to wrap things up with our On Target segment. I've got a few short little questions for you. And the first one, you know, go back to your childhood. Who was your sport hero when you were growing up in [00:24:30] ants? Holtz was your sport hero.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:24:33] A sports hero when I was younger. One was Carl Lewis, American. I really liked, liked, liked him in the athletics. Then there was Bjorn Borg, the tennis player. I liked also him and. Gilles Villeneuve, [00:25:00] Formula One Driver. And a couple of soccer players in Italy.
Tom Kelly: [00:25:06] That is a great lineup. Carl Lewis, I think, a nine time Olympic champion who is who is a great one. Okay. Let's go on to the next one. Do you have a favorite memory going back to your time as an athlete? Do you have a favorite memory as an athlete?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:25:25] Yeah. There is. There's [00:25:30] one or two when I was an athlete. One was also actually on a bike, you know, on a bike race, which was not biathlon related. But I won a very big amateur race in the Dolomites. It's the marathon at last kilometers. It's about 7500 riders on the on the line. And I wanted the short distance there. And it's still the 15th best time in [00:26:00] history. So it's that's one of my one of my good memories, I would say.
Tom Kelly: [00:26:06] That's a good one. You're in the record books. How about a favorite memory as a coach? I know that's a tough one because you've had a lot of but a favorite memory as a coach.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:26:16] Who? There have been a lot. There have been so many. I think my favorite moments are so many. I mean, [00:26:30] it's difficult to say, actually. Me?
Tom Kelly: [00:26:33] It's okay. That's okay. Well.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:26:36] One one of the favorite moments for sure was like, actually, it happened the last four years. I mean, with the four ladies I coached the last four years, they were like the results we already talked about. We're like, amazing. And. The seventh place from Deidre or the medal [00:27:00] from Susan in my hometown. Claire Egan succeeding in being on the podium in Oslo. That was those. Those were probably the three. Top highlights. I would say those which where I was like, well, that was really strong. That was awesome.
Tom Kelly: [00:27:24] Those are great memories. And then the last question, and I asked this to all of my guests, what is your favorite [00:27:30] biathlon venue? And I won't let you name Anholt because you grew up there. So what's your favorite venue outside of Antilles?
Armin Auchentaller: [00:27:38] Hunter Selva. That's the Italian way to say, I'm told.
Tom Kelly: [00:27:43] Okay. Well, that's. I don't know. We could. That's funny. I like that.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:27:48] Yeah. No, I think besides. And also, I would choose actually, France, like number nine.
Tom Kelly: [00:27:58] Yeah. Beautiful.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:27:59] I love the [00:28:00] excitement there. I love the people there. I love the way how they organize the the the race there. It's a mobile venue. It's people are so, so excited to see those bicyclists key around and shoot on the range. And there's thousands of thousands of spectators super excited. I really like that place.
Tom Kelly: [00:28:28] Well, Armin, it has been [00:28:30] a joy to have you here on Heartbeat. I thank you very much. We wish you all of the best luck to you and your team as you head out onto the World Cup. Armin, thank you for joining us.
Armin Auchentaller: [00:28:40] Thank you so much for the opportunity. And say hello to everybody.
Tom Kelly: [00:28:46] Ciao, Armin.

Heartbeat: US Biathlon Podcast (c) US Biathlon