All three of the Norwegian biathlon skiing stars who were reprimanded for drunkenness and vandalism during a World Cup event in Slovenia last month have now issued public apologies. “We were stupid, and now we have to be man enough to pay the price,” Olympic gold medalist Emil Hegle Svendsen told state broadcaster NRK on Friday.
The apologies of Svendsen, Tarjei Bø and his younger brother Johannes Thingnes Bø came a day after the national skiing federation announced that all three had been given written reprimands and effectively fined up to NOK 100,000 each for “unsportsmanlike conduct” during World Cup competition in Pokljuka, Slovenia in early March.
The three men, who are close friends and known for previous antics, confirmed on Friday that they had started drinking alcohol one evening before competition in Slovenia, then went skinny dipping and ended up letting the air out of the tires of vehicles belonging to rival biathlon teams.
“We weren’t drita (the Norwegian word for being intoxicated), like it’s been reported in some media,” Johannes Thinges Bø, age 20, told NRK. “But that’s not what this is all about. We have made a mistake and now we just have to say we’re sorry to everyone who follows us.”
Bø said they also have to tolerate all the criticism that’s been thrown at them the past few days. “But we’re human, too, we’re not supermen,” he said. “Everyone can make a mistake and we recognize that we have done something we shouldn’t have done. We hope we can put this behind us now.”
Skiing legend Bjørndalen among the ‘victims’
They also revealed more details of their wild night in Slovenia, saying it started at a party hosted by the arrangers of the World Cup. “After that we were in a good mood and then we did all these stupid things,” said Svendsen, age 28.
Among the cars they vandalized were those belonging to the Austrian and Swedish biathlon teams and the BMW driven by their own Norwegian teammate and biathlon skiing legend Ole Einar Bjørndalen. He’s known for his tough self-discipline and rigorous training regime, and just the month before had won another Olympic gold medal in Sochi himself, at the age of 40. Svendsen and the Bø brothers couldn’t explain why they vandalized the car of a fellow Norwegian athlete who ranks as among the most respected in the history of sport and also recently became a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“We talked with Ole Einar (the next day) and told him what we’d done,” Bø said. “We squared up and put it behind us.” Svendsen said the trio also apologized for their behaviour to all the other athletes and their coaches the next day.
Bjørndalen, who was in Moscow on Friday for a meeting with 75 media representatives, told newspaper VG that he’d already told his teammates “what I thought” about their behaviour, but accepted their apology. He thought at first that he had run over something that flattened his tires and drove slowly to a nearby gasoline station get them repaired. “You can imagine how you feel when you get to your car and three of its tires are flat,” he told VG.
Svendsen claims all three were also back out training at 9am on the morning after their binge, and agreed with Bø that they weren’t overly intoxicated. “We didn’t drink very much,” he said. Bø characterized their drinking as “a few beers too many.”
National skiing officials have warned that the incident may still have consequences for the three men’s future contracts with the national biathlon team because they violated regulations. Former world champion biathlon skier Liv Grete Skjelbreid Poirée called the trio’s antics “very unfortunate for Norwegian biatholon.”
“We realize we’re grown-ups and are regarded as idols by younger skiers,” Tarjei Bø, age 25, told NRK. “We have to remember the position we have. This was not a cool thing to do, but we hope folks realize we’re human and we hope the Norwegian people will forgive us.”