For this issue of Women of Calibre, I spoke to ace biathlete Jill Colebourn at the 2016 Australian Biathlon Championships at Mount Hotham. Jill took out the gold in the open sprint race and came second in the individual distance race.
How long have you been competing in biathlon?
I picked it up when I was 16. This is my fifth year.
How did you get into it?
I started downhill skiing when I was a little kid. Then I started school racing and from there I picked up cross country skiing. Then one day I just decided I’m going to take skiing seriously, I’m going to go down every weekend. I got really good at cross country. Then I heard about biathlon, and I thought “Okay, I can shoot.” Because I did Scouts when I was little, so I thought “I’ve shot before, I can ski, why not?”
Did you shoot air rifles in Scouts?
No, we shot .22, just occasionally, and it was really good.
You’re based in Sydney, how did you find training down in the Victorian snowfields [at Mount Hotham]?
This year, I stayed here for a big block [of time], for four weeks, because it’s really far to come just for the weekends. Last year I stayed during the holidays, and came back and forth during the week. I did three days of uni, but I wasted so much time, I wasn’t getting the best of either.
What are your aspirations for biathlon in the future?
I’m hoping to get to the World Cup, I’d really like to do that. There are quite a few each session, so there are lots of opportunity to qualify. You can qualify and then decide not to go to one, but then go in a few weeks’ time. I’d like to perform well at it. I don’t want to just go, I’d like to really be competitive. That’s my ultimate goal.
What’s your weekly training regime like?
I do a lot of swimming, biking, running, roller skiing, fitness stuff. I’ll shoot one to two times a week. I used to shoot a lot more, but it wasn’t really the focus this year, because I became a pretty good shooter, and we needed to work on my fitness, that was my aim.
Where do you go to for target shooting practice?
We go to Hornsby Rifle Club. It’s really close to where I live, and when I first went there, I was pretty much the first biathlete there. That’s where I used to go for Scouts. They’ve been really welcoming, so now quite a lot of us go there, masters and juniors too. The club’s been really good to us
Do you use an Anschutz biathlon rifle?
Yes, I’ve had it since I started, since I was 15.
Do you ever use laser rifles in training?
No, not in Sydney. They have them in Victoria, they have a very good laser set up, they have lots of kids coming through. [In Sydney] when we’re looking at getting kids into the sport, they have to be 12 or over, because that’s when you can get your shooting licence.
When you’re practicing at the range, do you do some vigorous exercise to get your heart rate up first?
It depends on what the focus is that day. Some trainings, I won’t do any exercise, I just focus on the rhythm, the routine, that sort of thing. Other trainings, I will go for a run. I’ll run out, run back, I may run slow, to get my heart rate up a little bit. Other trainings, we do intervals, so it’s coming in with a really high heart rate, so I’m running really fast then doing my shooting. Also, sometimes strength is the focus that week, we have lots of different training blocks. I’ll do push ups, sit ups, then shoot after that. Usually we do leg exercises before standing shooting, and arm exercises before prone. Especially with standing, if your legs are tired, it really affects how you shoot. We’re really targeting the muscle groups that are a problem, and getting them used to it.
Do you focus on core strength much, as that is likely to assist your standing shooting performance too?
What appeals to you most about biathlon?
What everyone says is that it’s the uncertainty. Anything could happen, that’s what makes it interesting. But personally, it’s pushing yourself, trying to do better. Hurting but wanting to do more. The shooting adds a bit of excitement too.
What about the mental game involved in the shooting aspect?
Exactly. It’s very much a mental game.