‘Biathlon Park’ moves into Oslo

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Oslo was geared up on Wednesday to welcome thousands of skiing fans and athletes for the third major winter sports event to be hosted in Norway in the past month. The Biathlon World Championships will run for the next week and a half, with events up in the hills at Holmenkollen and celebrations downtown.

Downtown Oslo has been transformed into "Biathlon Park" during the World Championship that were starting this week. Opening ceremonies were set for Wednesday evening, with musical entertainment, outdoor ice skating, food booths, medal ceremonies and other events planned every evening. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Downtown Oslo has been transformed into “Biathlon Park” during the World Championship that were starting this week. Opening ceremonies were set for Wednesday evening, with musical entertainment, outdoor ice skating, food booths, medal ceremonies and other events planned every evening. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The latter was getting underway Wednesday evening with opening ceremonies in the plaza in front of the historic university campus on Karl Johans Gate. It was set to feature musical entertainment in addition to parading biathlon stars from around the world.

It’s the third major sports event in Norway following the Youth Olympics in Lillehammer and last week’s X Games in Oslo. And as if the Biathlon World Championships wasn’t enough, Oslo is also hosting the popular international music conference and festival By:Larm this weekend along with a crime literature festival. Hotel rooms were at a premium.

More than 110,000 tickets have been sold for the Biathlon World Championships that run through March 13. In order to meet demand from fans of the sport that combines shooting with fast cross-country skiing, organizers have built nearly 9,000 more seats in the winter sports stadium adjacent to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump.

Holmenkollen has been the site of lots of World Cup events along with Nordic World Championship competition in 2011. Biathlon is a sport for what the Norwegians would call those “specially interested,” but organizers claim it’s strong worldwide because many countries have a chance to win. And it attracts spectators keen on both skiing and marksmanship.

Around 125,000 people are expected to make the trek up to Holmenkollen, lining the ski trails and filling the grandstands. They’ll be watching relays, sprints, pursuits and long-distance events, with 324 athletes registered to participate from 35 countries. Tickets, meanwhile, have been sold to spectators coming from 42 different countries, and Per Bergerud, head of the organizing committee, was very pleased.

“It’s great, around 20 percent of the tickets were sold abroad,” Bergerud told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. “Most of them coming from Germany and Russia, but there will also be specctators from Uganda, Namibia and Australia.”

Bjørndalen in action
Norway has traditionally fielded a strong national biathlon team and can also claim the legendary biathlon star Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who has won eight Olympic gold medals, 19 gold medals in the World Championships and six overall World Cup victories. At an age of 42, he’s still competing and thinks he’s in better shape now than when he was 25.

His participation in the World Championships at Holmenkollen was a big draw for the organizers. Norway otherwise can claim more World Championship medals than any other nation and is fielding a team this year that includes the Bø brothers and other biathlon stars such as Tiril Eckhoff and Emil Hegle Svendsen.

The biggest concerns involved the weather, with snow and fog in the forecast. Much work has gone into creating enough public transport capacity to shuttle spectators up and down the hills to Holmenkollen. It was not adequate when the Nordic Skiing World Championships kicked off five years ago, and on Monday morning, Oslo’s entire metro system suffered an unusual breakdown caused by a signal error. That sent shivers down the spines of organizers, but they’ve won assurances from transport officials.

“We have an order to carry 30,000 passengers every day up to Holmenkollen, and we’ll manage to fill it,” Cato Asperud, communications chief for Sporveien, which runs the metro line known as T-banen. He urged spectators to start early, though, and hoped crowds would come in intervals. “We can carry 10,000 people an hour,” he said, “just not 30,000 all at once.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund