Colebourn makes history as first Aussie woman to qualify for Biathlon World Cup in 20 years
9 March 2019
WINTER SPORT: Biathlete Jill Colebourn has made history as the first Australian female in 20 years to qualify for a Biathlon World Cup.
Colebourn had been competing on the European circuit since December 2018, with a goal of earning under 180 points. Earning 150 points would've granted her qualification to the 2019 IBU World Cup, but she was able to score 137.56, comfortably sending her to the World Cup.
Currently, the 24-year-old is in Ostersund, Sweden, looking to make more Aussie history as she represents the green and gold at the World Championships.
Biathlon is the most watched winter sport in Europe, although you could be forgiven for not knowing of its existence here in Australia. The sport combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting and was born out of survival.
It was in Scandinavia, when people had to hunt on skis, that biathlon found its roots. Although a lesser known sport in the warmer climate Down Under, Colebourn is making a name for herself on the slopes.
“It feels pretty amazing, I’m actually lost for words,” Colebourn said when describing how it felt to be the first Australian female to qualify for a biathlon world cup in over two decades.
“It was a goal I set for myself eight years ago when I first started the sport, so it’s unbelievable to have achieved a dream I’d had from the beginning.”
Between this season and last season, Colebourn improved her points by 40 and says she credits this to a specific form of training done at high altitude.
“My training increased a lot this year, not just increased but the quality improved a lot and I spent more time focusing on high altitude training which has really improved my performance.”
High altitude training is common among endurance-based sports, with the idea to temporarily let the body become used to producing oxygen in thinner air, so at low altitude when the air is no longer thin, the body doesn’t need to work as hard to produce oxygen.
“When you train at high altitude, there is limited oxygen, so your body naturally produces more red blood cells,” she explained.
“Because your body has become used to breathing where the air is thinner, when you come back down to lower altitudes you have a lot more oxygen which your body can use more efficiently which means you breath, train and perform better.”
Changing from tearing down the mountains when cross-country skiing, to becoming calm and focused for rifle shooting is one of the exciting challenges biathletes have to face, but Colebourn says the transition suits her perfectly and meditation is her secret weapon.
“It's definitely challenging when making the mental switch from really going for it and pushing your hardest, compared to letting everything drop away so you’re 100% relaxed and completely in the zone for shooting,” the 24-year-old said.
“Meditation is something that helps me with that. It’s really made such a difference in my performance and races and also just in life in general.
“I’ll especially prioritise it on race days. I think everyone is different, some people love to get into that fighting mentality, but me personally, I like to be completely focused and relaxed and that’s what helps me.”
Colebourn says her favourite part about biathlon is the unpredictability, making it an exciting sport for both competitors and spectators alike.
“The best part about biathlon is that it’s not over until it’s over,” she said.
“You really have no idea who is going to win until the very last second. You see it particularly in relays, where one country will be leading up until the last person and then suddenly they have a bad shooting and all they’re completely out of the race.
“Someone can be coming first for 50 minutes of the race and then suddenly they’re tenth and I think that’s the most exciting thing,” she continued.
“From a competitor’s point of view, even if I haven’t had the best start, it’s good to know that you’ve got to keep on pushing and you’ve got to keep focused because you don’t know how everyone else is going and anything can happen at the finish line.”
When she’s not representing her country on the slopes, the Wahroonga, NSW local studies mechatronic engineering full-time.
Mechatronic engineering is said to combine electrical, mechanical, robotics and computer science. If you think of the characters from the ‘Transformers’ movie, you’d have a small insight into what a mechatronic engineer can create.
“I really enjoyed maths and design and technology when I was at school, so wanted to find something that combined the two,” she said.
“I love the whole creative idea of making something out of nothing, so it’s been a good fit for me and I’m really enjoying it.”
As for what’s next for this multi-talented athlete, Colebourn says she looks forward to getting more experience under her belt as we head towards the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
“Right now, I’m in Sweden for my first World Champs which I’m so excited for and am hoping to do well at.
“Over the next couple of years my goals are to compete at the next two World Championships as well as make my first start in some world cups, which would be absolutely incredible,” she said.
“It’s really important to get as much practice as I can competing at the highest level, the more prepared I can be for the future, mentally and physically, the better chance I have at qualifying for Beijing 2022.”
You can follow Jill’s results and her journey below;