Germany’s shining star of biathlon
Building on an incredible 2016/17 season, when she claimed the overall World Cup crown and a stunning five world titles, Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier made Olympic history at PyeongChang 2018, becoming the first female biathlete to win sprint and pursuit gold at the same Winter Games. Also winner of the individual bronze, Dahlmeier is a worthy successor to the great Magdalena Neuner.
Born in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on 22 August 1993, Dahlmeier is petite at just 1.62m but blessed with exceptional stamina. She took up biathlon when she was only seven, dividing her time between that sport and Alpine skiing over the next two years before deciding to devote herself exclusively to biathlon.
She scored several notable wins in her teenage years, not least at the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in Liberec (CZE) in 2011, where she won gold in all three races (10km individual, 6km sprint and the mixed relay). That year also saw her complete her school studies and join the national customs service club, which allowed her to focus entirely on biathlon.
The German was 19 when she made her IBU World Cup debut in the 2012/13 season. That same winter, she won three medals at the Junior World Championships in Obertilliach (AUT) in the individual, sprint and relay events. She went on to gain selection to the national team for Sochi 2014, her first taste of the Olympic Games. Enjoying what she described as a “brilliant” experience, Dahlmeier recorded a best performance of 13th in the individual.
In Neuner’s footsteps
A keen hiker and climber (hobbies that help bring balance to her life, with climbing also aiding the concentration she needs for shooting), Dahlmeier very quickly followed in the tracks of her compatriot Magdalena Neuner, the winner of two Olympic gold medals and 12 World Championship golds, who retired aged 25 in 2012.
On 5 February 2015, the biathlete won her first World Cup race, the sprint at Nové Město na Moravě (CZE). Building on that success, she won races in all formats before becoming world No1 at the age of 23, on the back of an outstanding 2016/17 season.
Queen of the winter
It was a campaign in which Dahlmeier claimed 10 IBU World Cup wins in all: two in the sprint, four in the pursuit, three in the individual, and one in the mass start. She also went unbeaten throughout the season with her German team-mates in the relay, in which she skied the anchor leg. At the end of it all she lifted her first big crystal globe and small globes for the individual and the pursuit.
In the process, Dahlmeier became the first German biathlete since Neuner in 2012 to win the overall World Cup title, while also laying down a marker for PyeongChang 2018 by hitting every single target in the sprint and pursuit at the Olympic test events held at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in March 2017.
It was at the World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT) where the German truly hit great heights, however, collecting five gold medals (in the mixed relay, pursuit, women’s relay, individual and mass start races) and a sprint silver in the six events she contested. Having won a gold, silver and three bronzes in Oslo-Holmenkollen the year before, and a gold and silver in Kontiolahti (FIN) in 2015, she took her collection of World Championship medals to 13.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said after collecting her mass start gold in Hochfilzen. “It’s like a dream come true. It’s perfect to win five golds and a silver. It’s also the 11th medal in a row. It’s great, but I wasn’t expecting it.”
Olympic glory in Pyeongchang
After missing the start of the following season through illness, Dahlmeier was unable to replicate her regal form of the 2016/17 campaign. She nevertheless claimed pursuit wins in Annecy (FRA) in December and Antholz-Anterselva (ITA) in January to boost her confidence ahead of PyeongChang 2018.
The German’s first event at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games was the sprint, in which she won her maiden Olympic title of her career. The only biathlete in the top 20 to shoot clear, she crossed the line over 20 seconds ahead of Norway’s Marte Olsbu and Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova. “It wasn’t so easy because of everything that happened last year,” said Dahlmeier at the time. “There was a lot of expectation on my shoulders.”
Two days later, the insatiable German became the first woman to complete the Olympic sprint and pursuit double. Wearing the No1 bib and waving her national flag as she took the line, she finished well clear of the field, with Slovakia’s Anastasia Kuzmina beating France’s Anaïs Bescond to silver.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling, fantastic,” said Dahlmeier after making Olympic history. “I felt so, so tired before the race and during the first lap. I just tried to stay focused, and here I am. It was great to be skiing out front on my own on the last lap. I did the same thing here last winter, and there was no one behind me.”
She rounded off her Games by taking bronze in the individual, a race won by Sweden’s Hanna Öberg, with Kuzmina second. Dahlmeier’s medal haul matched that of Uschi Disl at Nagano 1998 and Neuner at Vancouver 2010, and earned her an ecstatic welcome when she returned to Garmisch in early March. “I got so many messages and so much attention. It was so lovely,” she recalled.
With age still very much on her side, Dahlmeier can look forward to adding yet more achievements to a career record that has already made her one of Germany’s biathlon greats.