21st-century sporting hero
After climbing onto the podium three times at PyeongChang 2018 to take his collection of Olympic medals to eight – four of them golds – Norwegian biathlete Emil Hegle Svendsen called time on his outstanding career at the age of 32. He did so having compiled one of the finest records in his sport: 12 world titles and 21 World Championship medals, 38 World Cup wins and five crystal globes, including the overall title in 2010, all on top of his Olympic haul. He departed biathlon a true giant of the discipline.
The road to success
Svendsen’s distinguished career has seen him reach the top of his sport and enjoy many a memorable joust with France’s Fourcade brothers, Simon and Martin. In his early days of competing, between 2003 and 2005, he won seven Junior World Championship medals, four of them gold, and at the age of 20 he took part in his first Olympic Winter Games, in Turin, where he claimed a respectable sixth place in the mass start.
A first taste of Olympic glory
Regular IBU World Cup victories across the various biathlon events started to come Svendsen’s way from 2007, and by the time the 2009/10 season came to a conclusion he was the world No1. As well as walking away with the large crystal globe, he won three Olympic medals in Vancouver: a silver in the sprint behind France’s Vincent Jay and golds in the 20km individual and the relay, where he teamed up with Halvard Hannevold, Tarjei Bø and Ole Einar Bjørndalen.
Medals, wins and globes galore
Over the course of ten World Championships up to 2017, Svendsen won a total of 21 medals, 12 of them golds, putting him in the all-time top three behind Bjørndalen and Martin Fourcade. His most productive World Championships came in Nove Mesto (CZE) in 2013, where he won medals in every event in which he took part: golds in the sprint, pursuit, 4x7.5km relay and the mixed relay, and a bronze in the mass start.
In the IBU World Cup, meanwhile, he scored 38 individual wins, 20 relay victories and 129 podium finishes, and collected a large crystal globe in 2010 and four small ones in total, including the individual in 2011 and 2014. Martin Fourcade’s main rival in the first half of the 2010s, he was four times runner-up to the Frenchman in the World Cup standings between 2011 and 2014.
At the double… again
Svendsen was not at his best as Sochi 2014 got under way, with Norway’s cross-country and biathlon teams both having equipment problems - finding it hard to get their waxing right in the slushy conditions. As a result, the great Norwegian could finish only ninth in the sprint and pursuit events and seventh in the 20km individual, while his arch rival Fourcade walked away with two gold medals. Redemption would come in a dramatic showdown with Fourcade in the mass start, however.
With the last standing shoot behind them, the two men went into the final sprint with nothing to separate them. When Svendsen pulled clear at the final turn, Fourcade responded with a late burst, making a last-ditch lunge for the line but failing by the width of a ski to deny his great rival.
The following day, Svendsen had the joy of winning a fourth Olympic gold in the mixed relay and his fifth medal of all. The event also saw team-mate Bjørndalen collect the 13th medal of his career.
More medals in Pyeongchang
Svendsen won his last world title in the 4x7.5km relay at Oslo-Holmenkollen in 2016, while his final World Cup victory had come in the pursuit in Pokljuka (SLO) in 2014/15. He remained a force on the Olympic stage at PyeongChang 2018, taking third place behind Fourcade and Simon Schempp in the mass start, before helping Norway collect silvers in the mixed and 4x7.5km relays, behind France and Sweden respectively. His three medals made him the joint most successful Norwegian biathlete at the Games with Johannes Tignes Bø, while his career haul of eight Olympic medals is the third largest in his sport.
The end of an era
On 9 April 2018, Svendsen announced his retirement at the age of 32. Coming just a few days after Bjørndalen’s decision to also retire, it marked the end of a glorious chapter for Norwegian biathlon. “I am proud and happy with everything I have achieved,” said Svendsen, who made an indelible mark on his sport. “I’d love to have the same motivation as Ole Einar and carry on for a few more years but I don’t.
“I had thought about coming back after the Games, but that spark was missing. I’ve been competing at the highest level for many years and though I’m sad, I have to face up to the facts. If you don’t have that desire deep down, then the only choice you’ve got is to stop. Though the last few seasons have been tough, I’m very happy with my career overall.”