Sochi 2014: Biathlon review – Bjoerndalen leaves his best till last
Sochi 2014: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen caps phenomenal Olympic career in biathlon by claiming 13th medal, most by a Winter Games athlete
Amid calls for waxmen to be axed, frustration that skis were not gliding properly and abnormal temperature levels wreaking havoc with the conditions, one man took a deep breath, got on with it and became the most successful Winter Olympian to walk the earth.
Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, a relative unknown to most sports fans before the Sochi Games, surpassed his compatriot Bjorn Daehlie’s 12 Olympic medals and equalled the cross-country skiing extrovert on eight golds when he won the mixed team relay on day 12 of Russia’s first Winter extravaganza.
At 40, Bjoerndalen has stated his intentions to retire at the end of this season so there will be no plane trip to PyeongChang in 2018, paving the way for others. However throughout his remarkable Olympic career, which started in 1994, Bjoerndalen has been slamming the door shut in his opponents’ faces such has been his influence on the sport.
The (Norwegian) system has been built thanks to Ole’s career. It’s because of his extreme professionalism
Emil Hegle Svendsen
His most successful Games were at Salt Lake City in 2002, when he won all four biathlon events he entered. But his expectations were low from Sochi, and so, perhaps, he will currently be grinning wider than ever before at the thought he is the ‘greatest’ Winter Olympian of them all, with 13 medals on his mantlepiece.
“Better than I thought before the Olympics,” was his frank assessement of his sixth Games, having not registered an individual win since February 2012 and with the rise of World Cup leader Martin Fourcade of France.
Norway topped the biathlon medal chart with three golds, one silver and two bronze medals, ahead of Belarus (3-0-1), France (2-1-1), Russia (1-2-1) while the Czech Republic claimed five medals but no golds.
They are admittedly winter sports obsessed, but men’s gold medallist in the 15km mass start Emil Hegle Svendsen, who fought off a valiant comeback by twice Sochi winner Fourcade, said Bjoerndalen had done more for biathlon in his country than anyone before him.
“The (Norwegian) system has been built thanks to Ole’s career. It’s because of his extreme professionalism,” said Svendsen.
Meanwhile Fourcade said Bjoerndalen was for a long time unbeatable.
“Until 2010 there was no contest, he was by far much better than me,” said the Frenchman.
“Last year everybody talked about him and said he has to retire. But I was one of the ones who trusted in him … Today he shut the mouth of all the people who were speaking about him,” added Fourcade, after the Norwegian’s sprint win on the opening Saturday of the Games.
Equally awe-inspiring were the three gold medals for Belarusian Darya Domracheva, who Czech Gabriela Soukalova confessed was in a league of her own most of the time.
Because of the events that happened in Ukraine, I would ask you for a minute of silence in honour of the people who died there during the last few days
Ukrainian biathlete Olena Pidhrushna
“I didn’t race against her, I thought it would be better to race with just myself,” she said after placing second in the mass start.
Germany were gold medal-less in the discipline for the first time since 1976 but worse was the news that Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle failed a drugs test.
The two most popular and timely wins came at the bitter end of the competition, as first Ukraine won the women’s relay on Friday with their country in turmoil following the deaths of over 70 protesters in the worst few days of violence since independence from the old Soviet Union in 1991.
Then on Saturday Russian Anton Shipulin led home a clean sweep of the men’s relay in a thrilling race where four countries stood a chance heading into the final shoot but the hosts’ anchorman prevailed to roars of delight from the partisan crowd.