Born-again biathlete Wilhelm embarks on gold run
Kati Wilhelm had made her Olympic debut at Nagano 1998, competing as a cross country skier. She had been left disappointed after finishing a lowly 16th in the 30km, though she did help the German team achieve a 7th place in the 4x5km relay. In search of greater success, she decided to switch to a whole new sport – and duly reinvented herself as a biathlete.
The transition went extremely well. She won the sprint title at the 2001 World Championships, though missed out on another medal in the combined pursuit due to some poor shooting. In fact, that summed up her performances during much of her run-up to Salt Lake City – great speed as a skier, but too erratic on the shooting range.
She also had several mighty rivals in the guise of Magdalena Forsberg, the Swede who had won the last five World Cup overall titles, Russia's reigning Olympic 7.5km sprint champion Galina Kukleva and Wilhelm's team-mate Uschi Disl, who had won silver behind Kukleva in Nagano.
It was the 7.5km sprint that provided Wilhelm with her first challenge in Salt Lake City, and she knew she was under huge pressure to demonstrate that her shooting was up to scratch. That pressure could easily have crushed her; instead, she seemed to take inspiration from the setting and the calibre of her opposition. Wilhelm shot magnificently, hitting every target, while maintaining her speed on the skis. She held her nerve to cross the line more than 15 seconds clear of Disl, with Forsberg back in third place.
The combined pursuit provided a tougher examination of her shooting, with three misses from her first five shots forcing Wilhelm to complete three exasperating penalty loops. She stayed focused, though, missed just one more shot after that and held on to take silver.
Her final race was the 4x5km relay, in which, on paper at least, Germany boasted an outstanding team. They endured a difficult start, with Katrin Apel finishing the first leg in just sixth place, but then both Uschi Disl and Andrea Henkel performed very well to allow Wilhelm to start the final leg in the lead. It was an advantage she never looked likely to relinquish, bringing her team home to victory, and sealing her own third medal of the Games.