Saturday, November 28th in Kontiolahti, Finland. It’s the start of the season on the IBU World Cup circuit. The women line up for the individual race. Great, she’s among the early starters, we’ll likely see her and take screen grabs for a picture.
The first five take off, 30 secondes apart, and we’re excited. Stand by, she’s next. The camera cuts to Mona Brorsson and Ingrid Tandrevold, already on course, and switches back to the start line for bib 7. Darn, they skipped bib 6!
You guessed it, bib 6 was Canada’s Emma Lunder.
We never saw Emma throughout the race. She placed a solid 13th (18/20) under the radar. And that’s been her lot so far this season… in terms of IBU race coverage.
Here is the real deal though: at the Christmas break, Emma is 16th in the world rankings. Even more impressive are her shooting stats: of the “regular” WC athletes (100 shots minimum), she ranks 2nd at 91%, ex aequo with WC defending champion Dorothea Wierer (ITA), Dunja Zdouc (AUT) and Karoline Knotter (NOR).
Emma Lunder is having a stellar year and her progress in the past two seasons has been nothing but impressive.
“I think the main factors contributing to my progression in the last two seasons have been staying healthy, working with two world class coaches, and continuing to put in consistent, focused work! says Emma. Justin (Wadsworth, the National Head Coach) and Pavel (Lantsov, National Team Coach, shooting) are truly both experts in their respective fields, and having another solid training season with them trying to identify all of the small areas for improvement was crucial.”
Wadsworth has a mountain of experience as a head coach, and his reaction to her success speaks volume on the type of person Emma is. “Emma’s tireless drive to be the best she can be is really starting to show, says Justin. She is an athlete who is willing to do all the things big and small on a consistent basis that it takes to be the best.
“This may sound cliché, but when you see this effort day in and day out over a long period of time it’s very impressive. It’s true dedication to your profession, and that in itself should be celebrated, never mind the solid results she’s achieving. I feel she is just starting to find her spot among the world’s best biathletes, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the season.”
“I get to see what she does day in and day out, both at training and at home, adds her mate Christian Gow, himself having a brilliant season in the men’s National Team (ranked 36th, shooting 89%). It is safe to say that most hours in the day are spent on biathlon. Her days are filled with physical training, shooting, dryfiring, stretching, mental training, and recovery. Her dedication and passion is next to none and her results are really no surprise at all when you see the work that goes into them.”
All of this would not be happening without the improvement on her shooting, which has been phenomenal this season, after shooting 81% last year.
“My shooting accuracy is what I feel most proud of so far this winter! The combination of another year working with Pavel, as well as the mental training program are what have helped me take this step. It feels like a shift has occurred, both in technical shooting ability and my mental game, and it’s a momentum I hope to carry forward into the new year!
“This season in particular, a big shift for me has been the mindset side of things. Our team completed and intensive 5-month mental training program with our sports psychologist this year, and it’s affected every area of my training, as well as life outside of biathlon. I feel that I now have so many tools to deal with whatever situations arise, especially around racing and pressure/expectations.”
Shooting coach Pavel Lantsov has played a crucial role in this. Emma was lacking a little bit on her prone after the first 4 races. Lantsov had a meeting with her the day before the pursuit in Kontiolahti. He covered technical aspects about what to do and how to react under the changing conditions. The next day, Emma cleaned prone, shot 19/20 and since then, in the individual races, she’s 36/40 on prone!
That’s what a good coach does for you. Lantsov is not at all surprised by the “new” Emma.
“She is a true professional 24/7 dedicated to achieving her goals, says the shooting expert. And this is not all that she is capable of. This year, progress is not so much in shooting, but in functional and mental terms. She has become stronger, wiser, more responsible and at the same time freer and calmer.
“In my understanding, this is the merit of the whole Team. This is the organization, physios, the masseurs, the wax service, of course the Head coach Justin and John, our psychologist, who together were able to build a plan and a new program that opens up new facets and expands human capabilities.
“Also, inner fire, motivation, goals, trust, and hard work for many years, as well as enjoying what you do, makes Emma who she is. Awesome personality, athlete, team leader.”
Team work. Team values. Those are so immersed within the National Team they’re palpable. It’s nothing new either at Biathlon Canada, where team veterans are trusted to lead the way.
Says Emma: “When I was new to the World Cup and National Team, Rosanna (Crawford) had a big influence on my training. She was the best woman on the team, and I tried to learn as much as I could from her. I think a big piece she helped me realize was the energy management and prioritizing training and recovery side of things .
“When I was younger I thought I had endless energy for all the ‘extras’ outside of biathlon, but when I became a bit more protective of my time, I started to see positive changes. I think having her to chase and learn from was really important for my career!”
You can imagine how Rosanna feels when she sees her “protégée” go up the ranks: “It’s been so exciting to open up the results this winter and know that a Canadian might be cracking the top 10! says Rosanna, who retired in 2019. It’s going to be a great day when Emma gets that first flower ceremony, which I’m sure will happen this season!
“She’s been so consistent with her shooting, and that can only build your confidence and lead to great things.”
There is one last point one could get worried about. Ego. Like for many athletes, all this praise could go to her head and influence both her personality and results not necessarily in the right direction. Rest assured, the one closest to her is not worried for a second.
“I think she has been managing the pressure of expectations phenomenally well and that is due in large part to the vast amounts of mental training she has done in order to manage any and all pressures, replies Christian Gow. The praise is nice, but I think she is just enjoying the racing and letting her training shine through.”
So if you don’t see Emma on the screen in the next race, don’t worry about it. Just wait for the final results.
That’s where her sun shines.