New World Champion found himself in biathlon by accident

At the first individual race of the IBU World Championships Biathlon 2021 in Pokljuka – men’s sprint – we have already seen the first surprise of the championships. Swede Martin Ponsiluoma was the one who surprised everyone by reaching the top podium position.

The 25-year-old New World champion surprised everyone in the sprint and threw off the throne the Norwegians, who were considered the first favourites for the gold medal after extremely successful performances in previous sprint races of this season.

With a perfect shooting performance and fast running, Martin Ponsiluoma achieved the success of his career – his first victory at the World Championships, and at the same time his first victory in the World Cup. In this series, he already has second and two third places from individual races.

“It really felt good when I received the medal. That’s when I started to realize what happened,” said the biathlete, who could hardly open the Championships at Rudno Polje in a better way – with the title of sprint champion and bronze medal in the mixed relay.

For the first time since 1958, when Adolf Wiklund won the individual world title, Sweden is celebrating gold in men’s individual biathlon world championships. Reactions in the Swedish media speak to what kind of success this is. Even the legendary Magdalena Forsberg is not hiding her excitement. She told Expressen: “I’m so happy. Congratulations to Martin. He ran great this winter, he has it in him, as long as he gets his shots. It was entirely possible. I won’t say that I expected him to win, but biathlon is a sport where anything is possible. I don’t think we’re done with medals yet.”

Martin comes from a sports family. His father Jyrki, otherwise born in Finland, is a former cross-country skier and 1992 Olympian when he finished eighth in the 30-kilometer race. Thus, it is not surprising that the 25-year-old also followed his sports dreams, just that he did not follow in his father’s footsteps. After finishing his running career, his father stayed in cross-country skiing as a coach, but young Martin also tried himself in other sports. He played football, floorball, tennis, practised some judo… Until 2004, when Martin’s mother Elisabeth Göransson came across a newspaper ad in which an Östersund club was looking for young biathletes. “Elisabeth saw the ad and they went to the test. That’s how it started – with the ad. It was a complete coincidence that he started with biathlon,” Jyrki Ponsiluoma told Stavanger Aftonbladet.

In the years to come, the Östersund biathlon community grew, and the local Tullus club became the largest biathlon club in the country. “He made a lot of good friends at the club and I was obsessed with cross-country training, so probably I slightly influenced him as well,” father added. Martin also admitted this after the big win: “Without him, I wouldn’t be here today. It means everything to me.” The night before the race, his father gave him some useful advice, as Stavanger Aftonbladet reports: “I told him he had to find something to think about so that his thoughts wouldn’t wander off during the shooting. That he just had to do his job. He knows he can be on the podium when he shoots well. He had the best performance, it would be hard to do anything more.”

Tears of happiness were shed not only by members of the Ponsiluoma family, but also by Martin’s coach Jean-Marc Chabloz. “I broke down. I stood alone in the woods and cried. There were no less tears when I called Martin’s father. It’s impossible to describe. I saw that he was completely in his own world when it came to shooting. I said to Hagström (shooting coach, authors note) he was in his bubble. Sometimes he turns around after a shot and looks at me, but this time he just ran off, which is good. We’re not allowed to bet on our athletes, but I actually joked about the shooting and told others to bet on Martin, who was in his bubble. If I had bet a nice amount of money on him, I would be rich now,” Jean-Marc, who joined the Swedish national team last spring, told Sport Bladet with a laugh.