The Team Behind the Team: Per Nilsson

Jan. 31, 2010, 4:24 p.m. (ET)

After the bulk of the winter is behind us you know the team. You know the Burke's, Teela's or Johnson's of the biathlon world. But their way to the Olympic Winter Games 2010 was paved by other people as well. This series will introduce you to the "team behind the team". Those people, you seldom see on TV and never in the result lists. But their work is crucial for the success in Vancouver.

Today's feature: Head Coach Per Nilsson.

Head Coach Per Nilsson sure knows what he’s talking about when coaching his athletes. Not only has he been athlete himself, he also underwent quite some years of education before becoming a coach. Within the World Cup it’s not often that the coaches really have the proper education to head a team of world class athletes, sometimes their careers as athletes lead right into their position as coaches. But not so for Nilsson of whom Tim Burke says: “Without Per I wouldn’t be where I am right now!”

When Nilsson thinks back of his time as an athlete he does it with the proper sense of humor which his athletes adore about him: “As soon as I figured out that I am not good enough I just stopped. I guess that was already at my first year as senior!” After that he registered for a course at one of the Swedish so called sports universities still unsure if he wants to pursue a career as physiotherapist or coach. “At the end I of course became a coach and after finishing my course at the age of 26 I started working at a local “ski gymnasium” which is kind of a Swedish high school that focuses on skiing.” High schools like that focus on all sorts of skiing like biathlon, cross country or alpine. Given his background Nilsson got the position as biathlon coach. For five years he explored different parts of working as a trainer at the ski gymnasium. “We really do have a good system in Sweden. I was always able to work with youth or juniors and help them develop their skills” That experience leaded him to the Maine Winter Sports Center in 2001. “We had a Maine exchange student in my hometown of Solleftea who before meeting me never posted any good results. But after spending some time at the ski gymnasium he suddenly finished 3rd at the US nationals. So that must have made an impression because I got a call from Max Saenger who back then was Chief Operating Officer of the MWSC and he hired me to coach his athletes” For one year he hepled developing the MWSC before heading back to Sweden. But he sure made an impression back in the USA: “After Max Cobb became executive director of the USBA he called me in spring of 2006 and offered me the job as national coach. He really wanted to restart after Torino, trying to get a new training philosophy developed”, Nilsson remembers.

The USBA needed a coach that was educated in the whole range of duties a position as national coach would demand. “I am sure that my education and experiences in the ski gymnasium as well as the work in the Maine Winter Sports Center helped me to become a better coach!”

Together with new coach Armin Auchentaller Nilsson plans the training days for the athletes and analyzes every kilometer they ski and every shot they shoot. “I could not see myself in a normal office job”, the father of two says. “To work with the team really is amazing and for 99% I am sure that I will continue for another five years. To see where we are right now and where we started – that’s amazing for me!”

To point that development out a lot of newspapers quoted Tim Burke who said – after receiving the yellow bib as the World Cup leader: “Before Per joined the team I never scored a single World Cup point and in the first season working with him I finished 25th in the overall rankings”

It has been four years since then. The next month will show how much Nilsson helped Burke and the rest of the team since coaching them…