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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Golden weekend for the Norwegians

Sports fans in Norway enjoyed a festive weekend as their athletes competing in two separate world championships pulled in a total of four gold medals and one silver in just two days. Biathlon champ Emil Hegle Svendsen mined two of them himself, and finally let some of his feelings show.

Emil Hegle Svensen is reigning as the king of this year's Biathlon World Championships in the Czech Republic...
Emil Hegle Svensen is reigning as the king of this year’s Biathlon World Championships in the Czech Republic…

“I wasn’t sure whether I’d won,” Svendsen told reporters after he’d crossed the finish line in the men’s pursuit at the Biathlon World Championships in Nove Mesto, the Czech Republic  “I celebrated because I just had to let my feelings loose.”

It wasn’t just downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal who was mining gold and drawing cheers over the weekend. Svendsen, who earlier has refrained from showing much emotion after his performance on the ski trails and on the shooting range, popped open a bottle of champagne in a symbolic gesture late Sunday night after a weekend in which he won both the men’s sprint on Saturday and the pursuit (called jaktstarten in Norwegian) on Sunday.

...and Tora Berger is the queen. PHOTOS: NRK screen grabs/
…and Tora Berger is the queen. PHOTOS: NRK screen grabs/

Tora Berger, meanwhile, also won gold in the women’s pursuit on Sunday after taking a silver medal on Saturday. Both Svendsen and Berger shared gold medal glory late last week when they were part of the mixed relay team that won gold as the world championships got underway.

Now Svendsen, with three new gold medals hanging around his neck and several days of competition still ahead, is being called “the biggest name” at the world championships along with Berger. Svendsen now holds 12 Olympic and World Championship gold medals, winning the first ones in Östersund in 2008. He’s still only 27 years old, and the Trondheim native who now lives in Lillehammer has clear ambitions to win more.

So does Berger, who’s being called the “biathlon queen” in Nove Mesto. She’s 31 from Lesja, at the northern end of the valley known as Gudbrandsdalen, but now lives in Meråker and can boast 15 world championships and an Olympic gold medal. It made her day when she won the women’s pursuit on Sunday, meaning that Norway won both of the two championship events of the day.

Berger, who often makes references to her poor English despite years of international competition and dislikes media attention, was typically restrained after securing her latest gold and beating the previous biathlon medal harvest record set by now-retired Liv Grete Poiree. “Of course that’s nice to hear, but I hope that some of the younger women on the team will pass me by some day,” she told newpaper Aftenposten.

The Norwegians have dominated this year’s world championships, even though veteran biathlon hero Ole Einar Bjørndalen hasn’t won any medals this time around. Bjørndalen, who’s now pushing 40, hasn’t wanted to retire and came close to a spot on the winners’ platform over the weekend. While some think he should have quit while he was on top, others give him credit for relatively strong performances despite the lack of medals.

The “ski-shooters,” as they’re called in Norway, will be back in action on Wednesday, when the women compete in a 15-kilometer race, while the men race in a 20-kilometer “normal distance” event on Thursday. Events continue through the weekend.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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