Norway’s reigning biathlon king Ole Einar Bjørndalen had seemed in danger of being dethroned, with no medals to his name as of Friday at the Winter Olympics. Then he anchored the Norwegian men’s relay team, and both he and his teammates could proudly travel home with more gold after all.
It had been a disappointing Olympics for Bjørndalen, until Friday. That’s when he shrugged off his failure to win or even place in earlier events where he’d been favoured, powered up his long-standing talent and, together with three solid teammates (photo), shot and skied his way to victory in the Men’s 4 x 7.5-kilometer Relay.
Each of the men performed well, starting with Halvard Hanevold, a 40-year-old biathlon veteran who was appearing at his last Olympics before retiring from the sport. He shot a full house and handed off in first place to young Tarjei Bø, just 21 and making his debut on the Olympic team. And what a debut – he also skied and shot well and could hand over his spot to Emil Hegle Svendsen, who’d taken Norway’s first medal of the Games at a biathlon sprint nearly two weeks ago.
Then things really started getting exciting. Svendsen ended up in a duel with Dominik Landertinger of Austria, and the two skied neck and neck, with Landertinger eventually pulling into the lead. Both missed some shots as well, in a heavy snowstorm. Svendsen made up time, though, and handed off to Bjørndalen who quickly took back the lead. Then he ended up skiing neck and neck with Christoph Sumann of Austria and they ran a close race, until Bjørndalen shot a full house on the second round and Sumann missed and had to reload.
Bjørndalen could race away, grabbed a firm lead and sailed into the arena more than a half-minute ahead of his Austrian and Russian rivals, who themselves had landed in a duel. Sumann crossed the finish line barely a boot ahead ofEvgeny Ustyugov of Russia, leaving Austria with the silver and Russia with the bronze.
But it was Norway that grabbed a gold medal once again, the country’s eighth so far and 20th medal overall. Bjørndalen was ecstatic, happily accepting a Norwegian flag from a spectator to carry over the finish line. All four men were congratulated after the race by King Harald and Queen Sonja, who had put up with the snowstorm along with all the other spectators in the open grandstand. “Everyone was perfect today,” Bjørndalen said when it was all over. “This was fun.”