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Gilt-edged Games for bionic Bjørndalen

20 Feb 2002
Salt Lake City 2002, Olympic News, Norway, Biathlon

Four years earlier, Ole Einar Bjørndalen had won gold in the 10km and silver in the relay, so the world already knew that the Norwegian was a fine biathlete. Those successes had merely heightened his sense of ambition, and he arrived in Salt Lake City eyeing a place among the very greatest biathletes of all time.

He had won two world titles in 1998 and thereafter embarked on a run of consistent success that continued through to the eve of the 2002 Winter Games. By the time he arrived in the USA, he had taken the sprint world title four times in five years, so was the clear favourite for that event. But his Olympic targets went far beyond that. Bjørndalen was entered into each of the four biathlon events, as well as the 30km cross country.

It was a daunting challenge. No biathlon athlete had ever won more than two gold medals at a single Games. Bjørndalen started his campaign in the 20km, an event in which he had finished way off the pace in the opening World Cup race of the season. Since then, his training had been intense and, despite missing two shots, his skiing time was so fast that he still won by 36 seconds. One event down, one gold medal in the bag.

Next up was the 10km, in which he finished the first lap in fourth place. He was simply conserving his energy. In the second lap Bjørndalen stormed to the front and opened up a huge 30-second lead that he managed to preserve until the end. He had now matched that record of two golds at one Games.

Three days later he was to break it with a supreme performance in the combined pursuit. Having won the 10km in such commanding style, Bjørndalen started the pursuit with a 29-second lead over second placed Sven Fischer (GER), and then proceeded to extend the gap, eventually winning by an overall margin of 43 seconds, having made 18 out of 20 targets in the shooting. Silver went to France's Raphaël Poirée, who had started the pursuit more than a minute behind the leader. That meant he matched the achievement of his wife, Live Grete, who also won silver in the women's 15km race.

Bjørndalen's final gold medal came in the 4x7.5km relay when he skied the fourth and final leg to bring his team home despite missed shots, a fall and a broken pole!

He couldn't quite add another medal in the cross-country, leading the pack towards the end but eventually finishing narrowly off the podium in fifth, but that did nothing to diminish the magnitude of his achievement. Four biathlon races, four gold medals, and he had firmly established himself among his sport's all-time greats.

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