The king, the prime minister and tens of thousands of cheering, flag-waving fans were on hand to congratulate the Norwegian men’s relay team when they won the gold medal at the Biathlon World Championships in Oslo on Saturday. Victory was especially sweet for Norway’s legendary athlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who won his 43rd championship medal at an age of 42.
It was the second gold medal in two days for the Norwegians, coming just after the women’s biathlon team also won their relay on Friday. It’s arguably the most popular event of the championships because of the sheer teamwork involved, and the crowd went wild when the Norwegians won again on home ground at Holmenkollen.
Biathlon’s unique combination of very fast cross-country skiing and shooting has long been a highly popular sport in Norway. It had a fairly marginal following internationally for years, with just a few countries dominating biathlon competition but in recent years it’s attracted a much wider following.
More than 300 biathlon athletes from 35 countries have been competing in the World Championships during the past week in Oslo, and on Saturday the Germans and the Canadians were nearly as glad as the Norwegians. Germany’s team won silver and the Canadians won bronze, their first medal ever at a biathlon world championships.
France had been dominating competition but the Norwegians prevailed on Saturday, with Bjørndalen, brothers Johannes and Tarjei Bø, and anchorman Emil Hegle Svendsen taking command. Each of them skied four laps of 7.5 kilometers each, with two sets of shooting both lying down and from standing position.
Bjørndalen skied first and shot well on the first round but needed two extra shots on the second. He therefore lost some time to his German rival, but was only 9.1 seconds behind when he handed over to Tarjei Bø. He only needed 900 meters to take the lead. He also shot well and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) later that he had one of his best days in his career.
He could hand over the third relay lap to his younger brother Johannes Thingnes Bø, who also had a great day with perfect shooting and super-fast skiing. So when he handed over to Svendsen, the Norwegians’ last and critical lap had the best possible starting point.
After one hour, 13 minutes and 16.8 seconds, Svendsen could cross the finish line first, to a roar of approval from the packed grandstands at Holmenkollen that he took time to salute. “There were so many people, so much noise, it was just incredible, fantastic,” Svendsen told NRK. After some disappointing performances earlier in the season, he was back on top.
The gold medal also only added to the “living legend” status of veteran Bjørndalen, who’s been competing at the highest levels for 22 years. It was his 20th World Championship gold, an impressive feat by any standard.
And then followed a jubilant rush of team hugs and cheers, exchange of congratulations with all the other winners, the flower ceremony, a visit with King Harald V and his sister Princess Astrid in the royal booth at Holmenkollen and more congratulations live on national television with Prime Minister Erna Solberg. She’d been among those cheering from the stands at Holmenkollen. In Norway, winning at any world championships is a Very Big Deal.
Around 30,000 fans were expected at the medal ceremony in downtown Oslo Saturday night. The Biathlon World Championships wrap up on Sunday, with individual competition again in mass start races for both men and women. Closing ceremonies would follow Sunday evening.