Bjorndalen, Ole Einar

Bjorndalen, Ole Einar
▪ 2003

      At the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen became only the third Olympian to win four gold medals at the same Winter Games and the first to win more than two in biathlon, a demanding sport that combines high-speed cross-country skiing with rifle marksmanship and requires that the competitor slow his or her heartbeat to achieve precision while shooting.

      Bjørndalen was born on Jan. 27, 1974, in Drammen, Nor., the second youngest of five children. He grew up on a farm in Simostranda and became a skilled cross-country skier. He later said his older brother Dag, a biathlete, was “like a coach to me”; small wonder, then, that the younger brother followed the older into the sport. At age 16 Bjørndalen left home and entered a sports academy in Geilo. He trained in both cross-country and biathlon for a year before deciding to concentrate on the latter. He was on Norway's Olympic team for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. Unlike other Norwegian ski teams, however, the biathletes struggled, failing to win any medals. Bjørndalen's best individual finish was 28th in the 10-km “sprint.”

      With his skiing solid and swift, Bjørndalen worked to become a strong shooter. He moved to fourth in the overall World Cup standings for 1995. He dipped to ninth in 1996 but rose to second place in 1997. At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Bjørndalen won the gold medal in the sprint and shared the silver medal with his brother and two other teammates in the 4 × 7.5-km relay. He wrapped up the season by capturing the World Cup overall title. He finished second overall in the World Cup three more times (1999–2001) and third in the 2001–02 season.

      When the World Cup tour staged its pre-Olympic “test” events in 2001, Bjørndalen swept all three races. Coming into the 2002 Olympics, he was understated, as usual, but he declared his dream was to be the first person to medal in the biathlon and cross-country skiing events. In two World Cup 30-km, mass-start cross-country races earlier in the season, he had been second. He was less than seven seconds off World Cup leader Per Elofsson of Sweden in the first race, then just half a second back in the other. He was a disappointing sixth, however, in the Olympic 30-km race. After catching his breath on an off day, Bjørndalen returned to form. He steamrollered all three biathlon individual races and, with the help of three teammates, added his unprecedented fourth gold in the 4 × 7.5-km relay. In Norway, where Nordic skiing was sometimes considered a birthright, Bjørndalen became the new yardstick for greatness.

Paul Robbins

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Universalium. 2010.

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