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Vladimir Barnashov: “We've made a tactical mistake”

Just one medal in 12 races and lame relays begging for changes. Right after World Cup 2 in Hochfilzen speaks with Russia’s A-team head coach Vladimir Barnashov about the reasons of the failure and the team’s future and learns about new athletes to arrive in the A-team, wrong tactics about the training and real reasons for the Sunday rely fiasco. 

— Are there any changes in the A-team after the second World Cup? 
— Yes, there are. We have decided today to invite Andrey Makoveev and Natalia Guseva from the B-team. They join us in Slovenia and start at both single races, the sprint and the individual. We’ll give a chance to everyone. Anna Bogaliy ranked 54th in Oestersund, but we gave her a chance and she’s among the team’s leaders now. 

— How do you feel about their possible performance at the WC 3rd stage?
— We need to understand, in what shape they are now in comparison with the World Cup leaders. Makoveev and Guseva were among the best during the off-season training, moreover, Andrey won almost all the test. We know that they are skilled athletes that always show high speed skiing, but both of them have problems about finding the balance between a good speed and a good shooting performance. Other athletes of the B-team are also important for us. We have to understand the present day difference of the level of competition at the World Cup and the IBU Cup. Though it’s obvious that it’s lower at the IBU Cup.  Say, Simon Fourcade won the first IBU Cup, but then he ranked 50th at the World Cup. 

— Didn’t you think of sending several athletes from the A-team to IBU Cup and change them for some others from the B-team.?
— You know, we have to estimate fairly who is not really successful here. In the women’s team five athletes are among the World Cup Total Score Top-15. Yekaterina Yurlova is 17th. They have already qualified to the January World Cups according to the RBU official qualification criteria. On the other hand the IBU Cup. We can’t say, if the athletes competing there are really strong. Guseva shows a great speed, but we haven’t compared her to the world leaders yet. We have to try here at the WC first. Anyway, the main qualification event for the next World Cup series is planned for Izhevsk where 80% of our athletes will compete. We’ll have another look at everyone there to make the right choice for January. Certainly there are obvious leaders in both the men’s and the women’s teams, who will start through thick and thin. 

— Who are they?
— Ivan Cherezov, Yevgeni Ustygov and Anton Shipulin among men and Anna Bogaliy-Titovets, Svetlana Sleptsova and Olga Zaitseva among ladies. We stake at those athletes and plan to prepare them for the next top competitions. 

— Oestersund was the World Cup to enter the season; while Hochfilzen was the World Cup the athletes started catching their confidence. When do we get the balance? 
— Monday evening we finish the analysis of the World Cup 2 and we’ll have concrete data. We have indicated a speed increase obviously. Men’s pursuit and relay, no matter what, showed high speeds. We lost just 32 seconds to Norwegians in pure skiing. There’s progress, but it doesn’t meet exactly our plans. Next World Cup starts in three days and we don’t have enough time to complete some serious training goals. On Monday we go to Pokljuka, and then have a recovery period and the official trainings. We have today planned in detail the time-table for each athlete, so that they knew how they are going to spend those three days and then till the end of WC3. Some starts in each race, some just in two or just one of them. The main aim now is to recover. Afterwards we’ll have a shooting training with the guys and try to correct something. Comparing the results of the two World Cups we can say that both our men and women have been progressing. 

— Do you feel pressure now?
— I would rather say I feel an inner discontent because of our supposed errors in the off-season training. It’s hard to explain in few words because it’s a complicated scheme. We didn’t expect a good performance in Oestersund, but at Hochfilzen we supposed it would be much better. Generally speaking, it was good but for the relays. Men’s relay turned everything on its head. I understand both the fans’ and the directors’ reaction. Whatever I say now, there will be more questions to us. And I understand that any answer isn’t really trustworthy after such a performance. You know, I came across the same situation when I was athlete. In 1982 at the USSR Spartakiad we had a similar performance with 13 penalty loops and a 13th position at the finish. We were all the national team members and the same no one could understand the reasons. And I haven’t understood it yet. We have discussed the reasons of this failure with the athletes today. They really overdid it, risked too much. Now the main thing is to have this lesson learnt well. But it’s not a matter of panic either. 

— Are the errors done about the training really serious?
— The main problem is that we didn’t consider the real level of popularity of biathlon in Russia and the level of expectations. I know see that it was not really right to use the first World Cups to raise the form. Since biathlon is so popular in our country, it’s really hard to explain to the fans that it’s just a matter of tactics and everything will be alright. We had probably to start winning medals at the very beginning of the World Cup. It’s a good lesson for the coaches. 

— Would this allow to keep a good form till the World Champs in this case? 
— This season our aim was a punctual preparation. Now we plan to orderly lead the team to the January World Cups so that the athletes felt confidence of being capable to compete with the leaders. We’re not among leaders yet, obviously. But there’ll be time and place for everything. We now have to work hard and be patient. The coaches know how to do it and we’ll do it. 

— What’s the crucial moment for everyone of us to see that we have gained the right condition? 
— I think so. By the end of the week we give all the athletes their individual training plans after December, 19th, when the first World Cup series is over. I think that by the German World Cups we’ll already be in the right condition. 

— What about any way of psychological recovery for the athletes now?
— Individually, you know. The men’s team has a great psychological atmosphere now. We have just sat together with them and discussed the relay, letting speak everyone including those who have not participated. They’ve seen it all and their professional opinion is very important too. Anton Shipulin said right that we’ve reached a good skiing condition while the shooting falls behind. Like a child with his or her bones already grown and the muscles not yet. It’s a bit different with the girls. Their coaches try to speak personally with each of them. But there’s no place for panic or hysterics. 

— Now, after the analysis done, can you explain the Hochfilzen relay failure? 
— Whatever we can say now, it was an unexpected failure. It’s beyond the scope of the coaches’ forecasts. I can assure you that the main point was in tactics. The athletes were physically well-prepared.  We asked them and they confirmed their being concentrated on the competition, but they lost it during the shooting. They lost some elementary but key points like fore sight alignment some other little things. I understand that it’s a conundrum, because they’ve been training all their lives. Of course we, the coaches, are also guilty. We had to stop Tcherezov during the first leg, there were coaches at the track and they saw him trying to run too fast. It was snowing hard, he went ahead of his rival, but they caught up with him on every slope. We had to advise him stay behind Jakov Fak. Ivan skied on recent snow and did much more effort than his rivals. The coaches lost that moment. Ivan said that he understood there were other athletes behind him just when he entered the tunnel and could hear at least anything. Before that he didn’t even feel he was followed so closely. The guys were not right to try to catch up with the rest. They had to work in a normal rhythm they were accustomed to. Maxim Tchoudov had a chance to reduce the gap, despite all his problems in shooting. The coaches just had to tell him to work normally till the second shooting end and then start forcing the speed. All these errors led to the horrible result we had. I’d like to apologize for it to all the athletes. Please receive our sincere apologies and try to be a bit patient. I don’t doubt that we’ll live up to your expectations. 

Maria Baydina, Egor Kretsan
Russian Biathlon Union Media Office