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A living legend retires

21.02.2014, Sochi, Russia (RUS): Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR)
- XXII. Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, biathlon, medals, Sochi (RUS). www.nordicfocus.com. © NordicFocus. Every downloaded picture is fee-liable.
21.02.2014, Sochi, Russia (RUS): Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) - XXII. Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, biathlon, medals, Sochi (RUS). www.nordicfocus.com. © NordicFocus. Every downloaded picture is fee-liable.

Ole Einar Bjørndalen with his medals from the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Photo: Nordic Focus

After more than a quarter century at the top level, Ole Einar Bjørndalen hangs up his competition rifle and parks his skis.

The 44-year-old wishes he could say he wanted to step down. He doesn’t. He retires out of consideration to his family and his health.

“I wish I could say I’ve had enough, that I’m tired of racing and want to quit. But I’m not. I am retiring out of health and family considerations, after advice from my medical team,” Bjørndalen explained, adding that he has not yet made a decision about what he will do next.

“I have an incredible passion and motivation for sports. I wish I could continue my career for several more years, but this is my last season.”

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) heading for a bronze medal in the pursuit at the 2017 IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT). Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) heading for a bronze medal in the pursuit at the 2017 IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT). Photo: Nordic Focus

At the press conference, when he announced his retirement on April 3, Bjørndalen told reporters he has suffered from atrial fibrillation for ten years, a heart condition that can affect endurance athletes. During the preparations for the 2018 Olympics last fall, this became an issue for him, interfering with his training and health.

“Atrial fibrillation is something you can live just fine with, but it’s not ideal when you are competing at the very top level. It keeps you from training the way you plan, and it sets you back each time it occurs. I have had an amazing career and reached everything anyone can dream of. So I think this was the right decision at this point,” Bjørndalen told reporters.

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen helping out with ski testing at Beitostølen (NOR). Photo: Per Wiik

Ole Einar Bjørndalen helping out with ski testing at Beitostølen (NOR). Photo: Per Wiik

Amazing career
The 44-year-old Norwegian is the most winning biathlete in history. He has more Olympic medals and World Champion titles than anyone. But becoming the World Champion on home turf in Holmenkollen, Norway, in 2016 was the jewel in the crown. In 2017, he won his 45th World Championship medal when he took bronze in Hochfilzen (AUT).

The past couple of seasons have brought some significant changes to Bjørndalen’s life. In the summer of 2016 he married Belarus biathlete Darya Domratcheva. On October 1, 2016, he became a father for the first time.

In February 2018, he attended his seventh Olympic Winter Games, his first as a non-competing athlete. However, in Pyeong Chang (KOR), Bjørndalen helped coach his wife to two medals: The gold in the women’s relay and the silver in the 12.5-kilometer mass start.

“We support each other in everything we do, so to see her reach her goals is amazing,” Bjørndalen said after Domratcheva’s relay gold on the last day of the Winter Games in South Korea.

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen earned his last World Championship medal in the pursuit at the 2017 IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT). Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen earned his last World Championship medal in the pursuit at the 2017 IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT). Photo: Nordic Focus

“A different sport than when I started”
After a quarter century at the top level the King of Biathlon takes some time to reflect on the changes and developments in the sport.

He believes both the improvements in equipment and increasing professionalism among the racers have contributed to raising the overall level in the World Cup field.

“The overall level of the athletes has changed a lot. When I first started, there were a lot fewer who skied really fast,” Bjørndalen.

One of the biggest changes was the transition from coarse bore to fine bore rifles. That happened about five years before Bjørndalen entered the World Cup.

“We have used the same weapon and the same mechanical setup during the entire time I’ve been active,” Bjørndalen says, noting that the weapon change made the shooting times drop significantly.

“Eirik Kvalfoss would use a minute to shoot one series. Today, none of the best racers use more than 20 seconds,” Bjørndalen points out.

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Biathlon - Olympic Winter Games 2006 - Torino (ITA): Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR)

Biathlon – Olympic Winter Games 2006 – Torino (ITA): Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR)

Better equipment
But according to Bjørndalen, the evolution of the equipment has been the biggest driving factor in advancing biathlon.

“With the skis in particular, it seems like there is a small revolution almost every season,” Bjørndalen says.

“Skis are now a lot lighter, more stable and faster, and there are entirely different materials used for both bases and construction than when I first started racing,” Bjørndalen says.

In his mind, moving to shorter, flatter tips is one of the biggest improvements in skis, and Bjørndalen was a big part of making that change.

“I was one of the first to cut my tips, and I shortened them by 5 centimeters. That cut delivers a much faster return of the ski, and you’re ready to make a new push and stride sooner. We beat Fischer to the punch on that. I cut my tips about two weeks before they were going to launch their hole-tip. I’ve been told that this caused a bit of chaos and confusion at Fischer. They didn’t know what to think of my tips,” Bjørndalen recalls.

Ski boots have also made leaps since Bjørndalen started racing, becoming both stiffer and lighter and better suited for skating. The biggest jump is moving to carbon in the boot construction, Bjørndalen says.

“With the new integrated carbon sole construction that came last season, the boots are even stiffer and still lighter, and with less material, you better contact with the snow and more control of the ski,” he explains.

The combination of all these improvements in the equipment has contributed to that the biathletes both ski and shoot faster than when Bjørndalen first started racing, without taking away from the job that the athletes put in day after day.

Bjørndalen also points out that the athletes now put in far more training hours both at the range and on physical conditioning than when he entered the World Cup back in the 1990s.

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen discussing the details with Madshus product developer Svein Ivar Moen - during a testing session in Sjusjøen (NOR) in April 2017. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Ole Einar Bjørndalen discussing details with Madshus product developer Svein Ivar Moen while testing in Sjusjøen (NOR) in April 2017. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Product development adds a dimension
The seasoned veteran is known to constantly seek out new insights and research on everything from training and equipment to diet and lifestyle, just to gain that split second margin that separates the winner from the rest of the field. That approach applies to equipment as well as training and lifestyle.

The involvement with the factory and the Madshus product development team is important and valuable for Bjørndalen. For him, being able to share his experiences and contribute to advance the sport gives his an added dimension and motivates him.

“You can put is this way: Sport is training, and equipment is development. Biathlon is still a young sport, and there is a lot more to gain. To be a part of that development is extremely exciting to me,” Bjørndalen explains.

“Being an active part of the research and development, and being included and involved in all the processes is a major reason why I switched equipment. Madshus is really on the cutting edge of equipment, they are extremely good at research and development and the process from idea to innovation is fast,” Bjørndalen says.

“With Madshus, you call and discuss an idea, and 24 hours later, their product engineers are after it. With other brands, it can take weeks,” he explains.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) earned his 45th World Championship medal in the pursuit in Hochfilzen (AUT). Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) earned his 45th World Championship medal in the pursuit in Hochfilzen (AUT). Photo: Nordic Focus

How to get 300 million Chinese on skis?

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) won four medals during the 2016 IBU World Championships on home turf in Oslo. Photo: Nordic Focus
Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) won four medals during the 2016 IBU World Championships on home turf in Oslo. Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) won four medals during the 2016 IBU World Championships on home turf in Oslo. Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen is headed for China.

As China is hosting Winter Olympics in 2022, the Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to increase the effort on skiing. His goal is to get 300 million Chinese on cross-country skis. This is why China recently launched the project campaign “Bring the kids to the snow.”

To help get the project off the ground, legendary biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR), the most winning winter Olympian to date with eight gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze medal, is named the ambassador or the Chinese campaign. Bjørndalen, who became a father for the first time himself in October 2016, is an important part of the plan.

“We simply want to teach the Chinese to ski. Madshus has a solid network in China, so the foundation for the project is already set. My job is to get the Chinese inspired and excited about skiing,” Bjørndalen says to the Swedish newspaper SportExpressen.

“China doesn’t have the same tradition and culture for skiing as we do in Norway and Sweden, but it’s all about creating positive experiences. The Madshus project in China is targeted at the recreational level, and not geared toward elite development for the 2022 Olympics,” Bjørndalen explains, and continues:

“Winter sports are still small compared to the summer sports. But if we can get more Chinese to compete in cross-country and biathlon, we have a real chance to make an impact that will benefit skiing in the long run. There are many nations competing already, but the pool of elite athletes in biathlon and cross-country skiing is still small compared to many of the summer sports.” There are far more Chines.

Bjørndalen will travel to China in the spring, but until then, his number-one priority is the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, which the 43-year-old says will be his last.

Sweeping up the Points

Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus
Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus

Weekend loot: 12 WC podiums, 3 Ski Classics podiums and the yellow jersey in the long-distance series.

For starters, The King of biathlon is back.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR), who enters his 23 World Cup season, left no doubt: The King started the 2016 season on the top of the podium after the 20km at the IBU World Cup in Östersund (SWE) on December 2. In January 1996, he won his first WC. In between those two victories, there have been around 92 more.

And after more than two decades on the World Cup, the 41-year-old takes time to reflect on the changes and developments in his sport. Read the full interview HERE.

The seasoned veteran is known to constantly seek out new insights and research on everything from training and equipment to diet and lifestyle, just to gain that split second margin that separates the winner from the rest of the field.

However, in the first World Cup race of his 23rd World Cup season, Bjørndalen won by more than a split hair. He didn’t miss a single target. He skied like a tornado with perfect technique milking each glide and getting the most from every push-off. At the end of the day, Bjørndalen had almost half a minute down to second place.

On Saturday, he was back on the podium, this time in third place in sprint competition.

“Biathlon is biathlon; it was a really good race today. It was a lot of stress after the 20K with all of the publicity, but I had no problem with motivation. I was really lucky to hit four; it was a combination of luck and experience,” Bjørndalen said after his race on Saturday.

However, he remained in the yellow leader jersey for the Sunday pursuit, but had to give it up after the final race in Östersud. But that doesn’t bother him. Bjørndalen reemphasizes that his focus is the 2016 World Championships in Oslo in March.

“I am only focused on Oslo, not the total World Cup score.”

Now, the IBU World Cup heads for round 2 in Hochfilzen (AUS) next weekend with sprint, pursuit and relay competitions for both men and women.

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 Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) during the 20km IBU world cup in Östersund on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus


Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) during the 20km IBU world cup in Östersund on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus

The cross-country World Cup moved to Lillehammer (NOR) this weekend, featuring 15- and 30-kilometer pursuit races for women and men, respectively.

Hans Christer Holund (NOR), who surprised everyone including himself with two podiums in a row at the FIS season opener at Beitostølen (NOR) in November, posted his first World Cup podium finish with a strong third place on the brutal course on Saturday.

“It is my first podium. It is like a dream come true for me,” Holund said of his first WC podium.

“The race was hard from the first lap. The course is really hard. I was a little afraid of the chasing group coming up from behind, so I tried to ski as fast as I could, so that they wouldn’t catch us. On the last hill, I knew I did it,” Holund said of the 15km+15km duathlon/pursuit.

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Hans Christer Holund (NOR) during the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec.5. Photo: Nordic Focus

Hans Christer Holund (NOR) during the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec.5. Photo: Nordic Focus

 

Also on Saturday, Heidi Weng (NOR) delivered a solid second place after winning the sprint finish with Charlotte Kalla (SWE) in the women’s 7.5km+7.5km duathlon/pursuit.

“I felt very good in classical part. In the skate portion I got stiff, but I tried to fight. I kept focused on the second place. It was very hard to ski with Charlotte,” Weng said after her race.

Given her strong performances so far this season and proven sprint capacity, Weng was appointed to anchor the Norwegian women in the 4x5km relay on Sunday – a job that so far has belonged to Marit Bjørgen. And Weng didn’t disappoint, anchoring Norway to a 2-minute victory, while Ingvild Flugstad Østberg skied a solid second leg for the same team. Krista Parmakoski (Madshus) helped Finland to 2nd place.

In the men’s relay, Hans Christer Holund helped Norway I to victory in the men’s 4×7.5km relay – ahead of two other Norwegian teams. Madshus racers Simen Sveen and Mathias Rundgreen helped their team to 2nd place, and Didrik Tønseth was on the 3rd place team.

The cross-country World Cup now moves to Davos (SUI).

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 Heidi Weng (NOR) in front of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) during at the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec. 5. Photo: Nordic Focus


Heidi Weng (NOR) in front of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) during at the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec. 5. Photo: Nordic Focus

This weekend also marked the start of the 2016 Ski Classics long-distance season: Team United Bakeries with Madshus marathon racers Johan Kjølstad, Øystein Pettersen, Tore B. Berdal and John Kristian Dahl set the stage for the season by winning the Team Prologue in Livigno (ITA) by more than a half minute! United Bakeries posted the combined time for the 15-kilometer team time trial 2:16:09. This event consisted of a mass start for women and a team tempo for men. The best female time was added to a pro team’s third best skier’s time, which was multiplied by three.

On Sunday, Dahl (NOR) went straight to the top of the podium in the first individual long-distance race of the season, winning the 24-km classic race La Sgambeda in Livigno by 8 seconds, with Eugeny Dementiev (RUS) in 2nd place and Johan Kjølstad (NOR) in 3rd.

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Team United Bakeries won the Proteam Prologue, which was the first event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics

Team United Bakeries won the Proteam Prologue, which was the first event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics

The FIS Nordic Combined skiers finally had a chance to start their 2016 FIS World Cup season, after their first competitions last week in Finland were cancelled. Magnus Krog (NOR), who opened his season by winning the Norwegian national championships at Beitostølen on November 14, won the large hill/10km World Cup competition on Sunday.

 

The Season is ON

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen at the Blink Summer Ski Festival 2012. Photo: Blink
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen at the Blink Summer Ski Festival 2012. Photo: Blink

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen at the Blink Summer Ski Festival 2012. Photo: Blink

The Blink Summer Ski Festival features the strongest biathlon field ever in the history of the event, as well as a solid international field for the XC events.

Madshus biathletes Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and Emil Hegle Svendsen will face the toughest racers in the world at the annual Blink Summer Ski Festival in Sandnes, Norway, July 30-August 1, which is featuring the strongest field ever.

2015 marks the 10th anniversary for the Blink Summer Ski Festival, and last year, the uphill time trial that kicks off the event drew more than 700 racers. This year, World Cup racers from France, Japan, Great Britain, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Canada and Germany are registered for the races, in addition to Norway.

French Martin Fourcade (FRA) is bringing the entire French national team to the races, Arndt Pfeiffer and Daniel Böhm of Germany as well as North American racers Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Nathan Smith are also on the start list. The biathlon program includes shooting duels and mass starts for men and women on July 31, and super sprint races on August 1.

For the Norwegian biathletes, the Blink Ski Festival is a part of the national team season preparations, gearing up for the 2016 IBU World Championships on home turf in Oslo March 3-13, 2016.

Complete start list biathlon

In addition to the biathlon competitions, there are several cross-country races as well. The uphill time trial Lysebotn Opp features a grueling 7.5-kilometer course with a total of 640 meters elevation gain. Many of the biathletes also race in the uphill time trial, adding depth to the already impressive field of XC skiers.

Also, there are two other XC races at the Blink Festival: a mass start distance race for the cross-country skiers, featuring 10km skate for women and 15km skate for men on July 31, as well as sprint races in Sandnes city center on August 1. Madshus racers Heidi Weng (NOR), Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR), Krista Parmakoski (FIN), Barbro Kvaale (NOR) and Oeystein Pettersen (NOR) are among the favorites on the start lists.

Complete start list XC

More about the 2015 Blink Summer Ski Festival 

Lysebotn Opp race course. Photo: NSF

Lysebotn Opp race course. Photo: NSF

Biathlon on Top

Studio broadcast with Emil Hegle Svendsen (center), Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and host Dag Erik Pedersen. Photo: NSSF
Studio broadcast with Emil Hegle Svendsen (center), Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and host Dag Erik Pedersen. Photo: NSSF

Studio broadcast with Emil Hegle Svendsen (center), Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and host Dag Erik Pedersen. Photo: NSSF

Biathlon is the most popular TV sport in Norway, beating both cross-country skiing (second place) and alpine skiing (third place).

“This is great news for us who work with biathlon, and also great timing, considering we are headed into a season where Norway is hosting the IBU World Championships. This might just be the most important season for biathlon in Norway,” says Gunnar Glavin Nybø, director of communication and marketing with the Norwegian Biathlon Association (NSSF).

Winter sports have always been important to Norwegians, but biathlon and cross-country skiing have a special status.

“Winter sports have a strong position among Norwegian viewers, which was clear looking at the ratings for the national broadcasting channel NRK in January and February as well as the ratings for the independent channel TV2 during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi last year. Biathlon has produced top ratings for year, and along with cross-country skiing, the two are in a league of their own among Norwegian viewers, even compared to the huge international sports,” says Jens-Petter Gjelseth, director or information at the major distributor RiksTV.

Norwegians TV viewers were asked to rate sports from 1 to 15, where 1 was the top grade/most exciting and 15 was the bottom.

Here is how the survey shook out:
1. Biathlon (5,52 points)
2. Cross-country skiing (5,55 points)
3. Alpine Skiing (7,00 points)
4.Team handball (7,21 points)
5. Ski Jumping (7,54 points)
6. Track and Field (7,98 points)
7. Cycling (8,27 points)
8. Norwegian Soccer/football (8,39 points)
9. International Soccer/football (8,47 points)
10. Snowboarding/freestyle (9,16 points)
11. Speed skating (9,42 points)
12. Swimming (9,93 points)
13. Figure skating (10,15 points)
14. Basketball (10,94 points)
15. Boxing (10,98 points)
(Sources: NSSF, Riks-TV, Ipsos MMI)

The 2016 IBU World Championships will take place in Holmenkollen, Norway, from March 3-13 2016. Tickets go on sale on August 29, 2015.

To see highlights and past coverage, check out the IBU web streaming and TV channel 

 

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