Reztsova’s golden gamble pays off
The biathlon welcomed female competitors for the first time in Albertville, and it was no great surprise that the inaugural Olympic women’s champion was the Unified Team’s Anfisa Reztsova.
Women’s biathlon may have been making its debut, but Reztsova was already a reigning Olympic champion, having previously competed at the Games as a cross-country skier. She was not the first athlete to straddle the two disciplines, but few have managed such a level of success in both as Reztsova.
Her medals in Calgary had come in the cross-country relay, in which she won a gold as a member of the Soviet Union team, and in the 20km, where she earned a silver. She then took time out to have a baby, and ponder her next move.
Reztsova’s husband was himself a former member of the Soviet Union's biathlon team and saw in his wife the skills needed to follow in his footsteps. He persuaded her to return to training and to give the new sport a go.
The main challenge for any athlete making the transition from cross-country skiing to biathlon was mastering the accuracy needed on the shooting range? Reztsova appeared to have a natural ability that immediately marked her out as a challenger to the best female biathletes in the world.
Her best prospects in Albertville were expected to come in the 7.5km sprint, the very first women's biathlon event in the history of the Games.
Among those standing in her way was the favourite, Norway's Grete Ingeborg Nykkelmo. However, she shot poorly, missing the target five times, and never challenged strongly for a medal. Reztsova missed three times herself, but her skiing was so strong that she made up for the time needed to finish her penalty loops and still came home in first place.
She followed that up with a bronze medal in the relay and went home with the distinction of being the first woman in history to win Olympic gold medals in two winter sports.
Two years later, she took another gold medal in the relay. She later returned to cross-country skiing and won yet another relay title before retiring.