"I'll be happy if Bulgarian athletes improved my achievements because this would mean there is development,” Vladimir Velichkov said in an interview for Radio Bulgaria. Biathlon experts and fans of the sport still remember his successes during the 80s of the last century. Born in 1959, Velichkov started his active sports career as a school student in the sixth grade, when he joined the cross-country skiing club in his native village of Stambolovo, Southwestern Bulgaria, which exists to this day. Later he switched to biathlon. In February 1980 he and Yuri Mitev became the first Bulgarian biathletes to participate in the Olympic Games. However, it was not in Lake Placid, USA, where they had their minutes of fame. Vladimir Velichkov told us more:
"At that time I was physically very well prepared. In Lake Placid, however, the weather was very cold and we were not prepared well tactically as we had no suitable cartridges. Our cartridges were suitable to -10 degrees but it was well below that temperature. We made a number of mistakes in shooting and had poor results.”
Only a month later, 20-year-old Velichkov had the chance to show his skills and his achievements remain unsurpassed to this day in the Bulgarian men's biathlon. In the Russian city of Murmansk, in the last round of season 1979/1980, Velichkov occupied the prestigious second place in the individual 20-km start. On the very next day he won the bronze in the 10 km sprint. "That was my first year of competing among the men. After the Olympic Games we did not take part in other international competitions. It was a kind of punishment. Nobody expected us to have much success," Mr. Velichkov recalls. During the next season - 1981/1982, he was back in the elite. Four times he placed among the top ten in the World Championships starts. By the end of the 80s of the 20th century he remained among the leaders in world biathlon. In the World Cup starts he placed 4th three times. Two times he placed 5th and 6th. He is most proud with the two fifth places from the World Championships in Minsk in 1981/1982, and in Ruhpolding, Germany, in 1984/1985.
The famous athlete told us more about the differences in biathlon of those years and today:
"At that time the internal competition was big. Athletes were ambitious to prove their skills in order to qualify for competitions and go abroad to see the world. Otherwise, the methodology then and now is the same."
After he ended his active sports career, Velichkov opened his own carpentry workshop. We asked him if he had regrets over not becoming a coach.
"I am sorry that I gained experience and I could not pass it on to the younger. I could have helped, especially in the shooting, which is the weak spot of Bulgarian biathlon to this day. I feel sory about this.”
Half a year ago Velichkov was invited to join the Board of Directors of the Bulgarian Biathlon Federation, which shows his successes were not forgotten. Today, he is pleased to monitor the development of the young athletes. "The boys in Bulgarian biathlon are very good," says Velichkov, referring to talented young athletes Krasimir Anev and Vladimir Iliev. Among the successes of Anev, who was born in 1987, is the 4th place reached in the Biathlon World Championships competition in Oberhof, Germany. This is the best achievement of a Bulgarian biathlete in the 15-km mass start, while the very right to participate in this event is given to the 30 best biathletes. This shows there is hope for the future of Bulgarian biathlon.