UPDATED: Veteran athlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen became the most successful winter Olympian in history on Wednesday afternoon, when Norway clinched the gold medal in the biathlon mixed relay. The 40-year-old surpassed the record holder, Norwegian cross country legend Bjørn Dæhlie, with a medal haul of eight gold, four silver and one bronze.
“It feels completely insane,” Bjørndalen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It has not quite dawned on me. The race was good for me, and the team effort was totally amazing.”
He claimed his effort can’t be compared with Dæhlie’s earlier achievements: “Bjørn was in a class of his own, and now we have more events and two relays. It’s a little wrong to compare them. But you must still win the races!”
Dæhlie didn’t entirely agree with Bjørndalen’s assessment, writing in a text message to newspaper Aftenposten that “Ole Einar is the greatest Norwegian athlete of all time. I bow to him in admiration.” Dæhlie went on to write that Bjørndalen fully deserves the title of greatest winter Olympian: “He is the greatest,” Dæhlie wrote, adding that Bjørndalen is also “the most dedicated person” he’s ever met.
King Harald of Norway was in the stands at Sochi to see the biathlon team’s winning performance, and he congratulated Bjørndalen on his historic achievement. “It was a very exciting race,” he said. “Biathlon is always exciting until they have finished shooting. I had not thought he would catch up to Dæhlie. But the guy is pretty special, so it’s fun. It has been a fantastic day.”
“Now Ole Einar is the absolute greatest winter Olympian of all time, and that stands in all respects,” said Inge Andersen, the general secretary of the Norwegian Sports Confederation (Norges idrettsforbund). “To pass Bjørn Dæhlie is totally enormous. He is a great athlete.” Andersen said with 13 medals, Bjørndalen was perhaps Norway’s greatest athlete ever.
Bjørndalen won his first gold medal in the 10 kilometre sprint at the Nagano games in 1998. His greatest Olympic showing came at Salt Lake City in 2002 when he won every event he entered, taking home four gold medals. He had already won one gold medal at Sochi on the first Saturday of competition.
Biathlon team on target
Tora Berger took the lead early on first lap and shot her five targets cleanly in the first shoot. She missed two shots in the second shooting round, leaving her in fifth. She managed to catch the pack and then overtake it, crossing the line first to set up Tiril Eckhoff’s second leg. She scored two flawless shooting rounds, holding the lead throughout her leg.
The Czech Republic had just clinched the lead when Eckhoff tagged in Bjørndalen. He made up the distance and also shot two clean rounds, setting up Emil Hegle Svendsen with a strong lead for the final leg. Svendsen shot a full house on both his laps before any other competitors had even reached the shooting stage, sending the Norwegian commentators, spectators and his teammates into raptures and securing his second Olympic gold in two days.
The Czech Republic took silver 32 seconds later, and the Italian team finished 58 seconds back to claim bronze.
Near misses in giant slalom and speed skating
Kjetil Jansrud, Super-G gold medalist and Norway’s biggest hope in the giant slalom downhill skiing was gutted when he crashed out of the event on Wednesday morning. He was .74 seconds ahead of the then leader when an error ended his race, NRK reported.
“I tried to be on the front foot the whole way, but I got a little impatient and made a funny mistake,” he told Norway’s Olympic broadcaster TV2. “I couldn’t hear the middle times along the way, but I felt that I was well placed. I wanted to put my foot on the gas and show I belong in the top echelon of the giant slalom.”
Rising star Henrik Kristoffersen had to be content with 10th place, while Leif Kristian Haugen came in 16th. The USA’s Ted Ligety took gold ahead of Frenchmen Steve Missillier and Alexis Pinturault.
In the ladies’ 5000 metre speed skating, Mari Hemmer finished seventh for Norway, 12.91 seconds behind winner Martina Sáblíková of the Czech Republic. Ireen Wüst and Carien Kleibeuker from the Netherlands took silver and bronze.
On Wednesday evening Norway had reclaimed the top spot on the medal rankings with nine gold, four silver and seven bronze, ahead of Germany with eight gold medals, 15 in total and the US with seven gold and a total of 21.