The “King of Biathlon”
February 20th 2002
Ole Einar Bjorndalen seemed ambitious just to have entered so many events at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
The Norwegian was to contest all four biathlon events, as well as the 30km cross country, in a matter of just a few days. Yet no biathlete had ever won more than two golds at a single Games.
First up for the 28-year-old was the 20km. He missed two shots, yet his skiing was so good that he still won by a resounding 36 seconds.
“I made four good races and got four gold medals, but I don’t think too much about the records. You just have to do your job.”
Next came the 10km. Bjorndalen trailed in fourth place after the first lap, but it soon became clear he was conserving energy, because he stormed through the field on the second lap and ended up winning by 30 seconds.
In the combined pursuit, Bjorndalen started with a 29-second lead over Sven Fischer of Germany after the sprint, hit 18 of the 20 targets in the shooting, and finished 43 seconds ahead of silver-medallist Raphael Poiree of France.
Stumbling while being so close?
All that remained to achieve a unique clean sweep was the 4 x 7.5km relay. But, in 10 previous attempts, Norway had never before won the event and heavy snowfall made the shooting increasingly difficult.
The trio of Halvard Hanevold, Frode Andresen and Egil Gjelland gave Bjorndalen a one-minute cushion going into the anchor leg, but the ‘King of Biathlon’ seemed intent on doing all he could not to win.
He missed shots, fell over and even broke a pole, yet still he managed to cross the line first. Previously only two other athletes – the speed skaters Eric Heiden and Lydia Skoblikova – had ever won four golds at a single Winter Games.
And no-one had ever achieved a clean sweep in the biathlon.
Afterwards, the modest Norwegian said: “I made four good races and got four gold medals, but I don’t think too much about the records. You just have to do your job.”