French medal machine
Not content with collecting two golds and two silvers in the biathlon events at Sochi 2014 – an Olympic Winter Games record for a French athlete – Martin Fourcade has also picked up 11 world championship golds in his stellar career and an unprecedented six straight overall IBU World Cup titles.
Vancouver springboardThe 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 sport-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.
World Cup winner…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 2013/14 season, the French competitor had racked up 65 podium finishes, 31 wins, three consecutive overall World Cup titles (2012, 2013 and 2014) and 10 small crystal globes, four of which were earned in a rare biathlon “grand slam” (sprint, pursuit, individual and mass start) in the second of those years.
… and world championFourcade 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. That meant that by the time he headed to Sochi 2014, his CV included 12 world championship medals, including five golds. Later that year, he became the first Frenchman since 1895 to win the Holmenkollen Medal, the most prestigious honour in Nordic skiing.
Olympic apexAlthough Fourcade suffered early disappointment in Sochi, trailing 12 seconds behind eventual winner Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway 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 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.
More recordsContinuing in the same vein, Fourcade won four golds (20km individual, 10km sprint, 12.5km pursuit and mixed relay) and a silver (mass start) at the 2016 IBU Biathlon World Championships in Oslo-Holmenkollen. The following year in Hochfilzen, he made five podiums in six races, winning his 11th world crown in the pursuit and taking his world championship medal tally to 25.
In the meantime, he also posted his 60th victory and 100th top-three finish in World Cup races, making off with three more big crystal globes in 2015, 2016 (a season that brought a second grand slam) and 2017 to extend his unbroken run of overall World Cup titles to six, a feat unprecedented in men’s biathlon. Only Bjørndalen has as many, though he did not win them consecutively.
As a sign of things to come in 2018 perhaps, he clinched that sixth straight title in finishing third in the sprint in PyeongChang, fully six races from the end of the season. It was at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre the following day that he claimed his 12th victory of the season in the pursuit, equalling the record set by Bjørndalen in 2004/05.
Divine inspiration“It’s fantastic to win a World Cup here, where the next Games are being held,” said a delighted Fourcade. “It’s a first big thrill for me in PyeongChang and I hope there’ll be more next year.”
Giving his reaction to equalling Bjørndalen’s record of six big crystal globes, he added: “It means a lot to me to be level with him now. He was my role model when I was young, and he still is today. I’m very proud to be up there with him. I’d like to thank Ole for having inspired me so much.”
A record-breaking 13th victory of the campaign came when Fourcade won the sprint in Kontiolahti (FIN), and he rounded the season off in style by winning the mass start in Oslo-Holmenkollen on 19 March to seal a third grand slam. With 26 crystal globes in total (six big globes and seven small ones in the pursuit, six in the sprint, three in the individual and four in the mass start), he now has one more than his idol Bjørndalen.
At the end of another magnificent season, Fourcade announced that he would be focusing on nothing but PyeongChang come 2017/18: “It would be great to win another big globe, just like I did in 2014, but the World Cup is not my main objective.”
Determined to excel at a venue where he feels very much at ease, Fourcade added: “I need to prepare all summer long so that I’m ready when the big day comes.”