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Vebjørn Rodal honed his skills as a middle-distance runner in somewhat unconventional surroundings. While others trained in sunshine, the Norwegian found his home town of Berkak under snow and ice for much of the year, which made maintaining a regular training regimen difficult to impossible.
Salvation came from an unlikely source. A nearby power station had built a tunnel through a mountain that was just under 400m long. And so, with the wind howling and snow swirling outside, Rodal was able to hone his running skills, dreaming of competing at the Olympic Games.
Eventually, in 1994, he left his power station behind and started training at more conventional facilities. Within a year, he had won a bronze medal in the 800m at the World Championships.
In the 800m in Atlanta, the Norwegian finished third in his semi-final to scrape into the final. The field was a strong one, but there was one notable absentee - world champion Wilson Kipketer, who was the outstanding 800m runner at the time, but who had recently switched from representing his native Kenya to Denmark, the country in which he had lived for many years. The decision cost him his place at the 1996 Games, because he was not yet officially able to represent his new country.
As Kipketer was forced to watch on TV, the final was blown wide open. The race started with the USA’s Johnny Gray leading the way, but in the latter stages developed into a sprint battle between Rodal and South Africa’s Hezekiel Sepeng.
Rodal had put in a strong surge over the back straight and passed Gray as the field headed into the final 100m. He opened up a gap ahead of Kenya’s Fred Onyancha, but the fastest man in the field was Sepeng, who surged from sixth to second place within a few seconds. He was making up ground on Rodal over the closing metres, but couldn't quite do enough to beat him to the finish line.
It was a race of firsts. Rodal became the first Norwegian runner ever to win an Olympic medal of any colour, while Sepeng became the first black South African to win a medal in any sport.
For the Norwegian, the victory represented the pinnacle of his career. Even though he was only 23 years old, he started to go into decline after Atlanta. He failed to make the final at the Sydney Games four years later and retired from international competition shortly afterwards. Sepeng, meanwhile, came fourth in the 800m in 2000, and then sixth in 2004.