Germany’s Rico Gross is the only biathlete in history to win four Olympic relay titles, and during a 17 year career he added to his medal haul with series of impressive individual triumphs in international competition.
Born in Bad Schlema, a mining town in the German region of Saxony, Gross took up the biathlon at the age of 13. “Like a lot of biathletes, I started out as a cross-country skier,” he explains. “But I got bored, so I decided to try my hand at shooting too,” explains Ricco Gross. “I found it fascinating, especially when combining the mental aspect with the physical nature of the biathlon.” He went on to become a sergeant major in the German army, and made his World Cup debut in 1990 when he was still just 20.
Gross attributes his swift rise to the top to a simple philosophy: “Never try to imitate anyone else. Follow your own path, find something new, something that is yours, and stick with it.” His incredible shooting skills, paired with an ability to maintain his nerve while on the range, set him apart from his rivals and earned him a reputation for fault-free displays as a marksman. “It’s a definite advantage,” he said of his prowess as a marksman, “but over the years I’ve also improved my skiing too!”
Gross won four Olympic biathlon titles with the German 4x7.5 relay team, a tally no other competitor in the event has matched. At Albertville 1992, he was the first to go, and had a brush with disaster when he collided with France’s Xavier Blond on the track. By the time he was back on his skis he handed over to team-mate Jens Steiningen in 12th position. However Mark Kirchner and then Fritz Fischer put in extremely solid performances to enable the Germans to recover and finish ahead of the Unified Team (comprising athletes from the former USSR) and Sweden. In Lillehammer in 1994, Gross was again the first to compete for Germany, and this time he gave them a winning start, handing over to Franck Luck in first place. Kirchner and Fischer completed the job to secure a memorable victory, which included four fault-free displays in the shooting, ahead of Russia and France.
At Nagano 1998, Gross was again the lead biathlete for the German team, and again he put them into a commanding position thanks to a faultless display of marksmanship. His team-mates Peter Sendel, Sven Fischer, and Franck Luck maintained their lead in the face of a strong challenge from Norway.
The same German quartet were back in action two years later in Salt Lake City, but this time they found themselves outdone by the Norwegians, and had to settle for the silver. However, there was a golden finale for Gross at Turin 2006. Now 35, he lined up alongside Michael Rösch, Sven Fischer and Michael Greis to spearhead the Germans victory ahead of Russia and France.
Vying with giants
Gross’ career unfolded at the same time that two of biathlon’s biggest international stars, Ole Einar Björndalen of Norway and France’s Raphaël Poirée were at their dominant best. Competing against these two giants of the sport – both of whom he held in high regard and considered good friends – presented the German with a tough challenge, but he still managed to accumulate an impressive tally of individual honours right up until 2007. Along with his 24 relay titles, he won three individual Olympic medals, four world titles in the pursuit and 20km and five in the 4x7.5km, five silver medals, six bronze medals and nine individual victories in IBU World Cup events.
Commentator and coach
After he stopped competing, Gross based himself at Ruhpolding, the centre of German biathlon sport, and having completed a degree at Cologne’s Institute of Sport he went on to become the voice of biathlon for German TV. He also ventured into coaching, taking charge of the German national women’s team in 2010.