Ice cool Kruglov strikes double biathlon gold
Biathlon is regarded as one of the more curious events at the Winter Games – but its combination of Nordic skiing and marksmanship has over the years made for some thrilling encounters. And the 1976 contest in Innsbruck, won by 25-year-old Soviet Union electrician Nikolay Kruglov, was no exception.
Though the sport was first invented in Norway in the 18th century, its first World Championships didn’t arrive until 1958. After making its Olympic debut two years later, with a 20km race in Squaw Valley, the men’s 4x7.5km relay was added in Grenoble in 1968.
Competitors race against the clock using the classical Nordic skiing method, which requires a diagonal stride, or the faster freestyle skating style. In, the 20km event each skier stops four times to take five shots at a target using a small bore .22 rifle weighing at least 3.5kg, with a one-minute penalty for each missed target.
Kruglov, having won gold in the 1975 World Championship 10k sprint, came to Innsbruck as a favourite for medal glory in the gruelling event – but never expecting to take two gold medals back to the USSR.
The favourites in the 20km were reigning world champion Heikki Ikola from Finland and Kruglov’s teammate Aleksandr Tikhonov, who had missed out on gold in the event in Grenoble and Sapporo in 1972.
It was to prove a fascinating race. Tikhonov led Ikola after the first shooting round, and despite a missed target at the next rifle stop he increased his lead further to 26 seconds, with Kruglov moving up to third place, 25 seconds behind the Finn.
After the top three scored perfect shots at the third shooting round, Kruglov, skiing beautifully, closed on Ikola’s heels, narrowing the gap to just eight seconds.
But in the final shooting round – usually the decider – Kruglov held his nerve. Ikola, already more than a minute behind him, picked up a two-minute penalty, while Tikhonov went to pieces.
Kruglov, then serving in the Red Army, kept his lead to the finish and pipped Ikola by 90s, winning in 1:12:12.26 – amended to 1:14:12.26 with his penalties. To add to his well-earned 20km gold he was part of the USSR 4x7.5km relay team anchored by Tikhonov, again leaving the Finnish team to win silver.
Kruglov, 25, told reporters after his 20km victory: “Everyone expected Tikhonov to win the gold, but this was a sound and fair competition. I had hoped for one of the other medals, but of course I’m excited to win the gold.”
After his double win Kruglov handed the baton to his son, also Nikolay, born in 1981. Nikolay the younger is a two-time world champion in the men's relay and took silver medals at the 2005 World Championships and the 2006 Winter Olympics.