Antonin Guigonnat is one of the brightest stars in the world of biathlon, which is a great place to be during an Olympic winter. As part of the French national ski team, he came fifth in the biathlon relay in Pyeonchang in 2018 and has two World Championship medals on his wall, the most recent being a gold from the single mixed relay competition in Slovenia in 2021. Is this Antonin’s winter?
In case you need a synopsis, biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. During each race, contestants ski a varied trail littered with shooting rounds; mounted on their back you’ll see a small-bore rifle. The skiing is based on speed, the shooting on accuracy with missed shots resulting in extra time added to each contestant’s total. It’s thrilling and has its roots in the Norwegian military.
Antonin is the poster boy for the sport of biathlon in our valley, but how did that happen?
“..the precision of the shot with the effort in crosscountry skiing is a constant challenge”
How did you discover biathlon?
I was in a cross-country ski club and we were offered an initiation to the shooting element one day. At the time I found cross-country skiing to be hard and quite monotonous but I quickly understood that this alternative could make me love the competition! By adding in the shooting range we totally change the sport! Combining the precision of the shot with the effort in cross-country skiing is a constant challenge. Competitions become exciting and the training is more varied.
What is your association with Morzine?
My mother is from Morzine, but I grew up an hour’s drive away in Juvigny, near Annemasse. We came to Morzine every weekend to go skiing during the winter and I’ve been downhill skiing since I was two years old. I discovered cross-country skiing later, around the age of eight or nine, when my parents suggested my older sister try the sport.
Here in Morzine I have a big family, many cousins who all grew up in the village or Les Gets. We are a very close family and my grandmother is still known as ‘le loup blanc’ (white wolf) in the valley! In 2015, I was looking for financial support to take on my professional biathlon season so I went to the Mairie de Morzine-Avoriaz to present by big project – my aspirations. I took my license at the Morzine-Avoriaz ski club and the town became my first sponsor.
“We are a very close family and my grandmother is still known as ‘le loup blanc’ in the valley! ”
What other sports did you do while growing up?
My cousins all play ice hockey but I couldn’t really find a sport that suited me. Alpine skiing yes, but not in competition. I’ve done judo, soccer training, but I’m clearly not made for it! My parents always took us hiking in the mountains with my sisters, even though I was rarely motivated for it!
How intense is your training programme?
April is the only month in which I can stop training for a few weeks. I’ll play other sports without thinking about the competition. But the preparation for biathlon is very long. From the beginning of May to the end of November when the winter season begins, I’ll train constantly. The summer is definitely my busiest training period, when I train twice a day, six days a week. You’ll see me roller skiing, cycling, mountain biking, running, weight training…
When you’re not training, what do you like to do?
I really like being outside and playing sports. My favourite thing is downhill mountain biking with my friends. Morzine is often the place to meet because today the resort is one of the best in the world for this discipline. But when I have to rest, I spend a lot of time on social media or YouTube to make myself want to go outside afterwards even more!
“April is the only month in which I can stop training for a few weeks. I’ll play other sports without thinking about the competition. ”
How important is the funding and support of sponsors such as Morzine-Avoriaz?
In 2015, the first year of our partnership, it was essential for me to find enough money to finance my season and to leave my parent’s wallet alone! Being an ambassador for the resort makes me very proud, even if cross-country skiing is not the ‘big business’ here or the focus of the village, you can still find great trails and I try to promote them too! I am also in partnership with the Haute-Savoie. I really love my hometown and it is a pleasure to represent my region!
After the 2018 Olympics in Korea, I was recruited by the army to be part of the French military ski team. This is the most classic way to become a professional athlete when you are a high level skier. This gives us sa backup plan and support, in the event of an injury or for retraining at the end of a career, for example. It’s a great experience. I never thought I would be in the military in my life!
If you were not a professional athlete, what job would you do?
I decided to stop studying to devote myself 100% to skiing. I couldn’t find my way in higher education either. But if we talk like that without a diploma after the baccalaureate, I think that I would be a ski instructor, mountain bike instructor, mountain guide or a bicycle mechanic. I have always followed my destiny from day to day, without worrying too much about it. So I don’t really know what else could have become of me today!
“I really love my hometown and it is a pleasure to represent my region”
What are your hopes for this winter season?
Last season I had some good results which allowed me to dream a little about the coming season and the Olympics in Beijing. I am certainly not arriving at The Games as a leader, but people who follow the discipline of biathlon know that Guigonnat is able to surprise everyone on a very good day! That’s what I love about biathlon. You can create a surprise and win the race with a good shot, even if you are not the best skier on the day.
The Olympics is the race for a day, and if all goes well and the opponents make mistakes, it can become the race of a lifetime. I will go to China to give the very best of myself. By doing this I won’t be disappointed, whatever the outcome.
Why should we tune in to watch biathlon this winter?
Biathlon is a sport that is well suited to television. There are incredible leaders to follow and a staggering number of outsiders who can turn the world hierarchy upside down with every race. Nothing is ever finished and reversals are frequent!