Championships ended on golden note

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The roar from the crowd at Holmenkollen in the hills above Oslo could be heard all the way down to the city on Sunday, when Johannes Thingnes Bø won the final event of the Biathlon World Championships. Bø’s new gold medal capped a wonderful weekend for the Norwegians, and for the French as well.

Both the French and Norwegian national anthems were played once again at the end of more than a week of competition, which left the French biathlon athletes with the biggest haul of 11 medals, six of them in gold. The last one was won by Marie Dorin Habert, who claimed her third gold medal in the women’s final mass start race earlier in the day after winning medals in every event during the entire championships. Habert was dubbed the “queen” of the competition, after Laura Dahlmeier of Germany and Kaisa Mäkäräinen of Finland won the siver and bronze on Sunday.

Thrilling men’s finish
Then came the men’s mass start, and Habert’s French teammate and biathlon star Martin Fourcade was in the lead. Suddenly, though, Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø overtook him at the very end, after also shooting well, and sailed across the finish line just ahead of Fourcade. The heavily Norwegian crowd in the grandstands went wild once again, sending out the roar that literally could be heard many kilometers away.

Fourcade ended up with the silver medal while veteran biathlon champion Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the bronze, his fourth medal at the world championships at an age of 42. Bjørndalen, along with Bø, had won gold just the day before, in the men’s relay.

So thrilling was the men’s race at the end that Emil Hegle Svendsen, the anchor of the relay team that won gold on Saturday, stopped in his tracks during the mass start race to watch the dramatic finalé. “It was just fantastic,” Svendsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He was still in the race himself but far behind, so made the decision not to miss the success of his teammate: “I had to stop up and watch when he (Bø) headed for the finish line. It was so important that he beat Fourcade right there. It was great to watch.”

Bø himself was ecstatic, also when he once again could run up to the royal booth wearing his gold jacket to accept the congratulations of King Harald V, who has been on hand throughout the championships. The monarch was laughing heartily as Bø bounded in, and exclaimed that it was “exciting all the way.”

Bjørndalen: ‘Just fantastic’
Bjørndalen, meanwhile, was also exuberant after winning the 44th World Championships medal of his long career on Sunday. He won silver in both the sprint and the pursuit, followed by Saturday’s gold in the relay. Sunday’s bronze rounded things out and Bjørndalen said it was “just fantastic, and one of the best championships I’ve had for a long time. I was a bit tired today, but I managed to focus on the shooting … I felt really good today.”

Bjørndalen refused to answer the key question of whether he will now keep competing. Fans were wondering whether it was last time they’ll see Bjørndalen in competition, but he would only say it was “the last championship event this year. Now I’ll go to the World Cup finals in Russia and focus on that.”

He said he would decide on his future “when I feel it’s right to make a decision.” After the World Cup finals he’ll also take part in some “show runs” and then make an evaluation when the season is over. “Motivation has to be there, and my health has to be there,” Bjørndalen said. He said he was very glad for Bø’s sake.

“He deserved that victory so much,” Bjørndalen told NRK. “I think I’m as happy for his as he is.”

The Norwegians ranked second in the medals haul after France, with nine, followed by Germany with seven. Then came Austria with three and Italy, Canada, Finland and Ukraine with one each.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund