Magnificent Magnar powers to biathlon gold
It was no surprise that athletes from Norway and the Soviet Union were on top in the biathlon competitions, but there was a significant new rule – missing a target would now incur an athlete a one-minute penalty. It was a ruling that was to have a big impact on the competition in Grenoble.
The Norwegians had a strong crop of athletes to choose from. Olav Jardet, who won bronze in 1964, had gone on to become world champion in 1965, followed by another Norwegian, Jon Istad, the following year. Compared to them, 31-year-old policeman Magnar Solberg was relatively unheralded but he was chosen in place of Jardet, a selection that surprised many.
In the 20 km race, Solberg went off third, with only the youngest Soviet athlete, Aleksandr Tikhonov, and the Pole Stanislaw Szczepaniak ahead of him. The three were all to figure prominently. The early leader was Vladimir Gundartsev, just ahead of Solberg, but after the second round it was the Norwegian who had moved into a comfortable lead. Behind him, first Tikhonov, then Szczepaniak, and then Gundartsev all picked up time penalties, while Solberg continued to shoot perfectly.
This was new territory for Solberg. Not only was he not used to the pressure of leading such a major event – he had never even won the Norwegian title, let alone an international event – but he had never before completed a biathlon with a perfect scoring record. Now, though, was to prove the ideal occasion for him to produce that first unblemished display.
The fourth round came and went without error and he crossed the line in 1 hour 13mins 45.9secs. Tikhonov finished faster – more than a minute faster, in fact – but had picked up two penalties and so was himself nearly a minute behind on the adjusted timings. Gundartsev took bronze, half a minute ahead of Szczepaniak.
Solberg finally won the national championship in 1972, shortly before he retained his Olympic title in Sapporo.