French medal machine
In making his inimitable mark on PyeongChang 2018, French biathlete Martin Fourcade took his Olympic medal collection to five golds and two silvers to become his country’s most decorated Olympian of all time. It was a year that also saw him win an unprecedented seventh successive IBU World Cup title, just one of many achievements that have made him, along with Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the greatest champion in the history of his sport.
The dawn of Martin Fourcade’s illustrious international career can be traced back to 21 February 2010 at Whistler Olympic Park (CAN). It was then that the powerful Frenchman, who was raised in the shadow of the Pyrenees and attended a renowned sports-oriented high school in Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, won a silver medal in the men’s mass start, finishing 10 seconds behind Russia’s Evgeny Ustyugov despite incurring three shooting penalties.
Before long the Frenchman would be the world’s leading biathlete, combining speed on the skis and great accuracy on the shooting range, where he achieves a 90% success rate more often than not.
In the wake of Vancouver 2010, Fourcade, whose brother Simon is also an elite biathlete, picked up his first victories in the IBU World Cup (a sprint and two pursuits) and his first ever small crystal globe, in the pursuit.
By the end of the 2017/18 season, the unstoppable Frenchman had racked up 137 podium finishes, 74 victories, seven consecutive overall World Cup wins – a record for both men’s and women’s biathlon – and 24 small crystal globes. In the process, he has completed four “grand slams” (the sprint, pursuit, individual and mass start titles), in 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
As if that were not enough, he also holds the records for most wins in a season (14 in 2016/17), the most big and small crystal globes (31), the highest number of points scored in a season (1,322 in 2016/17), and the longest run of consecutive podium finishes (23 in a row between 2016/17 and 2017/18).
World champion supreme
Fourcade landed his maiden IBU World Championship crown in March 2011 in Khanty-Mansiysk (RUS), pipping his main rival, Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen, to the gold medal in the pursuit. In addition, he collected silver in the sprint and bronze in the mixed relay with Marie-Laure Brunet, Marie Dorin and Alexis Boeuf.
At the 2012 World Championships in Ruhpolding (GER), the versatile biathlete won three golds (sprint, pursuit and mass start) and a silver, while the following year in Nové Město na Moravě (CZE) he added another gold (20km individual) and four silvers. Later that year, he became the first Frenchman since 1895 to win the Holmenkollen Medal, the biggest honour in Nordic skiing.
Three more world championship medals came Fourcade’s way in Kontiolahti (FIN) in 2015, followed by four golds and a silver in Oslo-Holmenkollen (NOR) a year later and five more medals in Hochfilzen (AUT) in 2017. His career tally of 25 medals – 11 of them golds – is bettered only by Ole Einar Bjørndalen’s 45 medals and 20 titles.
Although Fourcade suffered early disappointment in Sochi, trailing 12 seconds behind eventual winner Bjørndalen in the sprint to finish sixth, he got his hands on his first Olympic gold in the pursuit 48 hours later, charismatically clenching his fist in celebration after registering a perfect performance in the final shooting round.
He then doubled his gold medal tally in the 20km individual event, shrugging off a shooting penalty to finish ahead of Germany’s Eric Lesser by an impressive 12 seconds. The on-song Frenchman capped a marvellous Games by taking silver in the mass start behind old foe Svendsen, who snatched victory by the smallest of margins.
Having already equalled Alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy’s three-medal haul at Grenoble 1968, this final flourish saw Fourcade take his total to four, more than any other French athlete in Olympic Winter Games history.
Fourcade went into the 2017/18 season with just one objective in mind: PyeongChang 2018, where he started each event he entered as a very firm favourite.
His Olympic campaign began in inauspicious fashion, however, with three misses in the first prone shoot spoiling his chances of victory in the sprint. Thanks to his speed on the skis, he was able to climb back up to eighth place, finishing 22 seconds behind the winner, Germany’s Arnd Peiffer.
The Frenchman was back to his best when he successfully defended his pursuit title the following day, missing just one target with his first shot and surging to victory. Another gold beckoned in the 20km individual, only for Fourcade to miss his final two targets and finish fifth in a race won by Norway’s Thingnes Boe, his biggest rival of the winter.
As had been the case in Sochi four years earlier, Fourcade was involved in another photo-finish in the mass start, this time with Germany’s Simon Schempp matching him stride for stride all the way to the line. Believing he had lost by the slimmest of margins once again, the Frenchman struck the snow in rage with his pole before learning that he had won gold by a mere 0.018 seconds.
He rounded off his third Games with another gold, this time in the mixed relay, with team-mates Marie Dorin-Habert, Anaïs Bescond and Simon Desthieux joining him at the top of the podium.
The pinnacle of french sport
The second French athlete after Killy to win three golds at the same Winter Games, Fourcade also became, with his five career golds, France’s most successful Olympian of all time and the second most successful male biathlete, behind Bjoerndalen, who collected eight golds in all.
His form across the World Cup season was perhaps even more impressive, not least because his focus had been on the Olympic Games. On the podium in 20 consecutive races, from Östersund (SWE) on 30 November to Tyumen (RUS) on 24 March, he cruised to his fourth big crystal globe.
Looking back on the campaign, he said he had but one regret: “I should have won the individual at the Games. The sprint was different; the conditions were tough. But I made a mistake in the individual and that cost me the Olympic title.”
Though he added that he intends to continue for two more years, through to the 2020 World Championships in Anterselva (ITA), Fourcade has not completely ruled out appearing at a fourth Olympic Games at Beijing 2022. If he does make that trip, he could well eclipse the all-time records set by the legendary Bjørndalen, the biathlete who has inspired him so much.