Kvalfoss takes his chance to land biathlon gold
Eirik Kvalfoss could be called the accidental champion. The Norwegian raced and shot his way to a gold medal in Sarajevo in 1984, competing in a sport he had taken up entirely by chance as a boy.
Kvalfoss, from the mountain village of Voss in western Norway, grew up on skis and was a regular cross-country competitor. But at the age of 12 he arrived for a competition one day to discover he hadn’t been entered.
Undeterred, the young skier borrowed a rifle, entered the biathlon – and won. His journey towards sporting glory in Yugoslavia had begun.
Biathlon is an event that demands massive reserves of stamina and fitness, as well as precision shooting and composure. Its combination of Nordic skiing and marksmanship – originally designed for army officer training – has over the years made for some thrilling encounters at the Games.
Though the sport was first invented in Norway in the 18th century its first Olympic appearance was as a demonstration sport in 1924. World Championships didn’t arrive until 1958 and biathlon made its full debut at the Games two years later, with a 20km race at Squaw Valley. The men’s 4x7.5km relay was added at Grenoble in 1968.
Competitors race against the clock using the classical Nordic skiing method or the faster freestyle skating style. Skiers have to stop and shoot at targets from prone and standing positions using a small bore .22 rifle weighing at least 3.5kg. Missed targets incur time penalties or a 150m ski loop.
The three events held on the Igman plateau at the 1984 Games were closely fought between biathletes from West Germany, Norway and the USSR.
Kvalfoss picked up a bronze medal in the 20km individual race, which required four shooting stops with five shots at the target each time, losing out to West Germans Peter Angerer, the winner, and Frank-Peter Roetsch in second place.
But Kvalfoss got his revenge three days later in the 10km sprint, taking gold over the three laps by 8.6 seconds. After missing a target at the 50m range, Angerer had to ski a penalty loop. Kvalfoss missed two shots, one in prone position and has last shot in the standing position.
But despite having to ski the extra 300m, Kvalfoss was by dint of his cross-country background far and away the best skier on the course, and he duly the gold medal in 30:53.8.
Kvalfoss told reporters he didn’t think he had any chance of winning as he watched Angerer race towards the finish line. He added a silver medal as part of Norway’s 4x7.5km relay team, meaning he left Sarajevo with a complete set of Olympic medals.