Faultless Melanin speeds to biathlon glory
Having made its Olympic debut at Squaw Valley 1960, biathlon returned at Innsbruck with the same men’s 20km individual event, a race involving four shooting rounds each comprising five shots and fired over four different ranges (200m, 250m, 150m and 100m), with the first three rounds being fired from a prone position and the last standing. Competitors incurred a two-minute penalty for each miss of the target.
Better known for his power on the skis than his shooting prowess, having started out as a cross-country skier, the USSR’s Vladimir Melanin was the favourite for gold at Innsbruck 1964. Crowned biathlon’s second world champion in Courmayeur (ITA) in 1959, Melanin was let down by his riflework at Squaw Valley 1960 and finished just out of the medals. In a sign of things to come, however, he took the world title again in Hämeennlinna (FIN) in 1962 and retained in on the Olympic course at Seefeld a year later.
Vastly improved with the rifle, Melanin lived up to his pre-race billing by setting a searing pace on the skis and going clear in all four shooting rounds, eventually taking gold by more than three minutes from compatriot Alexander Privalov, who also shot clear. Melanin’s margin of victory remains the largest in Olympic biathlon history. Norway’s Olav Jordet would have claimed silver but for missing his fourth standing shot and had to settle for bronze, more than four minutes adrift of Melanin.
The fastest skier on the course was none other than three-time Olympic cross country skiing champion and seven-time medallist Veikko Hakulinen of Finland, who made light of his 39 years to complete the course in 1:19:37.9. Sadly for him, however, he incurred 12 minutes in penalties and could finish no higher than 15th.
Melanin followed up his gold medal in Innsbruck with a team silver at the 1965 world championships in Elverum (NOR). After winning the Soviet title the following year, he retired and moved into coaching, later opening a biathlon and cross country skiing complex in his home region of Kirov. Following his death on 10 August 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Prix d’Honneur by the International Biathlon Union.