The crowd roared and the jubilant skiers were screaming themselves. The four women making up Norway’s relay team at the Biathlon World Championships at Holmenkollen in Oslo shot and skied their way to victory on Friday afternoon, before stands packed with thousands of hometown supporters.
“I skied for my life!” exclaimed Marte Olsbu, anchor woman of the team that narrowly beat out their French and German rivals. France has all but dominated the championships that began last week and wraps up this weekend, also for the men. Even though the Norwegians have long been extremely strong in winter sports, the competition is spread much more evenly in the biathlon world.
Synnøve Solemdal, Fanny Horn Birkeland, Tiril Eckhoff and Marte Olsbu made up Norway’s relay team, each of them skiing six kilometers and shooting twice along the way, once while lying down and once from standing position.
They all did well, also Solemdal, who told reporters afterwards that she was so nervous before the race began that “I just wanted to go home and go to bed.” Birkeland said she was also a nervous wreck, claiming she had dreaded the event because she had performed poorly “so many” times in relays so far this season.
Even Eckhoff, who won an individual gold medal in last weekend’s 7.5 kilometer sprint, was on edge. She finished a lowly 43rd in the normal program on Wednesday but ended up shooting “phenomenally,” as state broadcaster NRK put it, during her third stage of Friday’s relay.
And then came Olsbu, who’d been provided with a great foundation by Eckhoff & Co. Olsbu scored on extra shots and sailed over the finish line first.
“It hasn’t really registered yet,” the jubilant 25-year-old claimed. “I can hardly believe this! I was so scared they (the French and German skiers) would pass me up on the last round. I skied for my life, and it was so wonderful to cross the finish line.”
It was a great comeback for Norway, after the men’s normal program was a disappointment for Norwegian fans on Thursday. Martin Fourcade of France won, followed by Dominik Landertinger Simon Eder of Austria. Norway’s best hope, Johannes Thingnes Bo finished a frustrating fourth.
The Norwegian women’s gold medals were to be formally handed out Friday evening at the festive ceremonies being held in downtown Oslo at 8pm after every event. The men’s relay was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, followed by the final race with a mass start on Sunday, with closing ceremonies to be held at Holmenkollen Sunday afternoon.