Lillehammer learning curveWhen he was 20, Ole Einar Bjørndalen made his Olympic debut on native soil at Lillehammer 1994. He finished 36th in the 20km individual pursuit and 28th in the sprint, while helping the host quartet finish seventh in the men’s relay.
The experience stood him in good stead. Four years later in Nagano, he claimed his first Olympic title in the sprint, and also featured in the Norwegian quartet that took a relay silver.
Salt Lake supremacyAt Salt Lake City 2002, by now 28 and in his prime, Bjørndalen’s medal-winning exploits gained momentum, as, as he achieved a remarkable clean sweep of the biathlon golds, winning the sprint, the pursuit, the 20km individual and the 4x7.5km relay.
By the time he arrived in Turin for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, he was already established at the top of his sport. However, there were no more gold medals this time. Instead he had to settle for silvers in the 20km individual and pursuit events, and a bronze in the new mass-start event.
In Whistler at Vancouver 2010, the Norwegian took his Olympic medal tally to 11 as he won silver in the 20km individual before winning gold alongside Halvard Hannevold, Tarjei Bø and Emil Hegle Svendsen in the men’s relay!
Surpassing Bjorn DaehlieBjørndalen arrived at Sochi 2014 off the back of a barren spell on the World Cup and world championship circuit but with the scent of Olympic immortality in his nostrils.
After securing majestic victory in the sprint to take his Olympic medal tally to 12 and put him level with compatriot Bjorn Daehlie at the top of the all-time rankings, he missed out on the podium in the pursuit and the 20km individual, and was then uncharacteristically wayward with his shooting in the mass start. It seemed perhaps as if destiny was going to deny him further honours. However, Bjørndalen finally rediscovered his golden touch on 13 February 2014 as he helped Norway to victory in the first ever mixed relay at the Winter Games. In doing so he claimed his eighth Olympic title and more significantly his 13th Olympic medal overall.
With eight golds, four silver and one bronze, Bjørndalen now stands alone at the summit of Winter Olympian greats. In addition to his unrivalled Olympic medal haul, he also boasts 93 victories in the World Cup, amassed since 1995, together with 19 world titles and six large crystal globes.
Blazing the trailIn Sochi, Bjørndalen confirmed his status as the best biathlete in history. His remarkable success, consistency and longevity are, in large measure, due to a peerless level of professionalism. He has pushed his sport to physical limits never seen before, with meticulous preparation and a punishing regime that has seen him clock up 900-1,000 training hours every year from the age of 15.
Few athletes have done as much to galvanise their sports. His approach raised the bar for a new generation of biathletes. He was, for example, the first biathlete to work with a personal shooting coach and a sports psychologist. And his love of competition has continued to drive him at a point where many might have been tempted to rest on their laurels, spurring him to constantly reinvent himself, not least when, at the age of 36, he took the radical step of revamping his shooting style ahead of Vancouver 2010.
Member of the IOCOn 20 February 2014, Bjørndalen capped a remarkable Games in Sochi when he was elected by his peers to take up an eight-year term on the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, alongside Canadian ice hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser. Soon after the 2014 Games he put an end to rumours of his impending retirement by confirming his intention to continue competing, meaning that he will remain a major force in winter sports, both in the arena and beyond it, for some time to come.