February 19th, 2014
Ole Einar Bjorndalen’s Olympic debut – at his home Games in Lillehammer in 1994 – offered little hint as to what was to come from the Norwegian.
The 20-year-old finished 36th in the 20km individual pursuit, 28th in the sprint and seventh in the relay.
Yet his dedication to biathlon – he is said to have practiced for up to 1,000 hours a year and was the first biathlete to employ both a specialist shooting coach and psychologist – saw him become the undoubted ‘King of Biathlon’.
By the time of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Bjorndalen had won 11 Olympic medals, including a clean sweep of golds at Salt Lake City 2002.
Despite a barren run in the build-up to Sochi, Bjorndalen won the sprint, which pulled him level with his compatriot Bjorn Daehlie with 12 Olympic medals.
Even though they were friends, the compatriots could scarcely have been more different. Whereas Daehlie, the retired cross-country skier, was exuberant and famed for his victory dances, Bjorndalen was shy and softly spoken.
After missing out on a medal in the 20km in Sochi, Bjorndalen’s date with destiny came in the mixed relay, which was making its Winter Olympic debut.
Happy birthday to Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the most medalled athlete in the history of the Olympic Winter Games. ♥ pic.twitter.com/tX25qVebcg
— Olympics (@Olympics) January 27, 2016
Tora Berger and Tiril Eckhoff went out first for the Norwegians, leaving Bjorndalen 1.1 seconds behind the Czech Republic.
The legend skied brilliantly and shot cleanly though, turning that deficit into a 43.1 second lead when he handed on to Emil Hegle Svendsen to anchor them home.
“It’s difficult to realise what has happened because you try to focus on the races. It will only sink in after the Olympics.”
Svendsen came through to give the Norwegians a winning time of 1 hour 9 minutes and 17 seconds, 32.6 seconds ahead of the Czechs in silver, with Italy in the bronze medal position.
Bjorndalen had entered history, winning his 13th medal, eight golds, four silvers and a bronze. One of the first to call to congratulate was King Harald V of Norway.
“It’s difficult to realise what has happened because you try to focus on the races,” Bjorndalen said. “It will only sink in after the Olympics.”