Sochi 2014: Bjoerndalen in videos – What it takes to be the greatest
Sochi 2014: Extreme professionalism, an innovator, endless workrate... meet Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the greatest Winter Olympian
Don’t speak Norwegian? No matter, the first 20 seconds of the above video are enough to tell you just what Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the most successful Winter Olympian with 13 medals, is all about.
Extreme professionalism, an innovator, an athlete so dedicated to pushing his body to the limit that, aged 40, he said before the action in Sochi got underway he felt half that age.
The Norwegian colossus surpassed Bjorn Daehlie’s tally of 12 on Wednesday, equalling his cross-country compatriot on eight golds in the process. Surely this prompted an outpouring of emotion?
It did not.
“It’s cool. It’s a big thing for me,” said the ice-cool Bjoerndalen, not exactly a crowd-pleaser in the mould of Daehlie, who would sometimes cross the finish line backwards.
Bjoerndalen prefers to collect watches for a hobby. He must have got a good sense of timing from somewhere, he was the first biathlete to start taking fewer breaths between shots in the range, saving perhaps 20 seconds in a sport in which small fractions amount to an eternity.
The tactics have served him well. He has 19 world championship titles to his name. He has claimed at least two medals at every Olympics since his first at Nagano 1998. He is nearing 100 World Cup wins having started 20 years ago. He has single-handedly, according to others, turned biathlon into an obsession for many nations.
“The (Norwegian) system has been built thanks to Ole’s career. It’s because of his extreme professionalism,” said compatriot Emil Hegle Svendsen, who claimed a second gold in Sochi alongside Bjoerndalen having seen off French favourite Martin Fourcade in the delayed men’s mass start 15km epic a day earlier.
“I want to quit earlier than him. I hope I won’t get too greedy, maybe another four years,” added Svendsen.
Fourcade, who has thanked Bjoerndalen for advancing the sport he loves and whose great rapport with the Norwegian is obvious in the below video, had more to say on him last week.
“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.”
American three-time Olympian Tim Burke echoed Svendsen’s views when he told NBC Olympics that Bjoerndalen had “single-handedly changed the sport” by making it professional in the late ‘90s.
“He’s very innovative,” added Burke, seen here in training for the Vancouver 2010 Games.
What about the opinion of a lesser-known mortal? Passionate French trail runner Tristan Petat, 21, had the opportunity to meet Bjoerndalen in 2012 when the Norwegian, one step ahead as usual, said there was more to come in his own career.
Liv Grete, a seven-times world champion and three-times Olympic medallist who was in the same sports school as Bjoerndalen in the early 1990s, recalls the moment the biathlon supremo made his mark in Nagano.
“My best memory of him is when he won (the 10km sprint) at the Nagano Games. He was leading and the race had been cancelled,” Grete told Reuters. “Well, he still won it the day after.”
At this rate who’s to say Bjoerndalen won’t carry on post Sochi? After Saturday, where he can claim a record ninth Winter Olympic gold to again go past Daehlie, he has Michael Phelps’ 22 Olympic medals to chase down.
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