After turning 40 in January, two weeks before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen was about to conclude an Olympic career that had spanned two decades. As a 20-year-old in Lillehammer, he finished 36th place in the 20km individual race, 28th in the 10km sprint, and was the lead biathlete on the Norwegian relay team that finished just seventh on home snow.
It would be the last time he failed to win a medal at a Winter Olympiad. At Nagano in 1998, Bjørndalen helped Norway’s relay team take silver behind the Germans. He also captured his first gold medal, winning the sprint by over a minute ahead of teammate Frode Andresen.
At Salt Lake City Bjørndalen would truly break through, winning all four events. He would push the limit by taking gold in all four races by more than 30 seconds — a lifetime in biathlon. In the process he had now earned six medals (five gold and a silver) by the age of 28, and was quickly becoming one of the greatest Winter Olympians in history.
There would none of the same in Torino. Bjørndalen “only” won two silver medals and a bronze, failing to reach the top step of the podium for the first time since Lillehammer. And yet he entered the Vancouver games one medal shy of double digits, 36 years old but still a potent contender on the World Cup circuit. He would leave Canada sitting on 11 medals after winning gold with the Norwegian relay team for a second time and tying Belorussian skier Sergey Novikov for the silver in the individual classic.
The man has certainly proven that he knows how to attain Olympic success… and yet, as he flipped the chronometer from 3 to 4 on his age, it was still reasonable to be skeptical that he could surpass (or maybe even tie) countryman Bjørn Dæhlie with a 12th and 13th medal. And yet there he was throughout the 2013-14 Biathlon World Cup season leading up to the Sochi Games, consistently showing his face on the podium of events throughout the winter.
So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when he topped the field in the 10km sprint on Saturday in Sochi, the event that put him on the map back in 1998 and his consistently-best event throughout his career. This time it wouldn’t be as dominant as performances past, his margin of victory just 1.3 seconds over Austria’s Dominik Landertinger. But it would be enough, pulling him even with Dæhlie. After finishing fourth in the pursuit, 1.7 seconds behind the bronze time of Jean-Guillaume Béatrix and less than 30 seconds behind winner Martin Fourcade, he has three more chances left to complete the Baker’s Dozen…
Biathlon - Men's Sprint Medal Results
|Ole Einar Bjørndalen||NOR||24:33.5|
Like her male compatriot in the biathlon, cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen is one of the most successful athletes in her sport in Olympic history. After her narrow victory in the 15km skiathlon on Saturday, she is now just two medals away from tying Raisa Smetanina of the Soviet Union and Italy’s Stefania Belmondo for the all-time women’s Winter Olympic medal record.
The 33-year-old from Trondheim broke through at the Vancouver Olympics, winning three gold medals and landing on the podium in all five events. Before that she had been part of Norway’s silver-medal relay team in Salt Lake City and had captured another silver in Torino in the 10km classical.
Her next opportunity for a medal comes in the women’s sprint in Tuesday’s program of medal events. Like in Vancouver, she could potentially be in the top three of all five cross-country events, which would give her a dozen medals for her career and tie her with fellow Norwegian cross-country great Dæhlie — and Bjørndalen, unless he can capture at least one more medal in Sochi.
Cross-Country - Women's Skiathlon Medal Results