Mexicans in Seefeld: Road to Olympia
It is hardly surprising that you meet top-class athletes training on the cross-country trails in the Region Seefeld. But the fact that two Mexican biathletes are also doing their laps there is quite unusual. What does their path to the Olympics have to do with a Tyrolean “Almabtrieb” and how does Mexico have a biathlon team at all? I was invited to eet the two exceptional athletes Chris and Raul during a training break in the Seefeld Sports Arena.
It is one of those winter days where the sun already promises a little spring and the sky stretches cloudlessly over the cross-country trails at Seekirchl. In 1964 and 1976, the Olympic winter games were held here, and today a vast 245 kilometers of perfectly groomed trails connect the five villages atop Tirols Hochplateau. A real cross-country skiing El Dorado, as the two Mexican biathletes Chris Gómez Mateos and Raul Antonio Figueroa are pleased to confirm. Both sliding straight into my arms on the freshly groomed A1 trail with broad grins and even broader beards. Their good humour is infectious and their laughter just as loud and genuine as you would expect from genuine caballeros. The two have already finished their morning training on the track for today, but before they are headed to the biathlon shooting range in the Seefeld Sports Arena, we’ll have lunch first – and their big grins even get a little bigger.
From the shooting range to Seefeld
From the sunny terrace at the Tennisstüberl, you can see far across the cross-country ski trails in the Möserer Tal, the two ski jumps rise up at the edge of the forest, and just below them is the biathlon training course. “We've come quite a long way," Raul grins, leaning his sporting rifle carefully against the table. I am fascinated by the high-tech device; this weapon having little in common with our traditional Tyrolean shooters. Although shooting has a long tradition here, biathlon ekes out a niche existence by comparison.
The two biathletes might tell you a good story about this – after all, their career once began at a shooting range of just such Tyrolean shooters. When they were visiting an “Almatrieb” (bringing the cattle down from the mountain-meadows after summer) in the Zillertal in 2018, at some point they had simply seen enough cows and headed for a shooting stand instead. Both hit the bull's eye so utterly successful that the equally surprised operator immediately predicted a stellar biathlon career for them. Although neither of the two had ever even been on a cross country track before, the sport immediately sparked their curiosity. The rest is history today, the two biathletes can confirm.
Yes, you can: Si, se puede!
When a Jamaican bobsleigh team made headlines in 1988 and went down in Hollywood film history with Cool Runnings, many took it for a joke: Where there's no snow, there's no winter sports, it's as simple as that! But thirty years later, two Mexicans started a very similar feat in Seefeld, with the same ludicrous goal: The Olympics. "It's quite the same actually – only with big shooters and moustaches!" laughs Raul, and Chris adds: "We really wanted to break the entrenched structures in top-class sport and further encourage others that you really can do anything: Our mex-I-can motto “Si, se puede!” somewhat translates to “Yes, you can!”. And we are also really spoilt with the training facilities in Seefeld – it's like coming home every time."
Mexican Biathlon Team - Chris and Raul
Higher, faster, further away.
Both are not really interested in the podium, but in the fun of the sport and the experience. Instead of a mere two kilometers in a full hour ("we would have been faster on all fours"), the two Mexicans run a solid ten about a year later. "We went to the competitions in Sweden and Norway in a rental car, with used race suits and only two pairs of skis," Chris recalls, shaking his head. "We're a crazy two-man show, we each have 40-hour jobs, Chris has become a father in the meantime and then there also was Corona," Raul adds.
The fact that the virus even threw a spanner in their efforts towards the Olympics leaves the Mexican firebrand completely cold: "Cortina 2026, you can count on us," they tell towards Milano,Italy. And then the shoes click into the bindings, because after lunch is before training! I would much rather be lying down, but both biathletes set a really good pace on the track. When I finally reach the training area of the Seefeld Sports Arena, they are already standing at the shooting range, smiling. Do they also train here on the roller ski track in summer? "Of course! But only with full-face helmets and mountain bike protectors!" the two laugh. "Especially downhill and braking is so much nicer on snow – and the fall is so much smoother, right?", vivid memories follow.
Seefeld: Sport at the highest level
Of course, the two can enjoy certain freedoms in top-class sports that other teams can only dream of: Optimal training conditions in the Seefeld Sports Arena – as here even absolute beginners are allowed to take part in biathlon try-out shooting, the two professionals joke. Both are also completely free when it comes to endurance training – in winter on the sheer endless cross-country trails of the region and in summer on the ski roller track. Even their style is self-designed and stands out – green, purple and gold, decorated with the royal feathers of the Aztecs. What also makes the two likeable top athletes instantly recognisable everywhere from Seefeld to Cortina. Before the Olympics, however, the two might also be competing in the next Ganghoferlauf in Leutasch. In any case, we have already made a date for Austria's biggest and oldest public cross country ski run. But only if I also get one of those fancy Aztec suits.
Mexican Biathlon Team - Concentration before the start
Chris collects stories. Whether by bike, snowboard or mountain boot - out and about in nature, the journey is always the destination. The office fits into the backpack, so you are at home in the world. Moments become memories in words and pictures and the most beautiful moments tell themselves. By a crackling open fire, under a twinkling starry sky or in the glowing red evening sun between imposing Alpine peaks.