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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

Behind the scenes: A passion for innovation

From the World Cup to YOUR race course. Photo: Stefano Zatta
From the World Cup to YOUR race course. Photo: Stefano Zatta

From the World Cup to YOUR race course. Photo: Stefano Zatta

How does Madshus apply World Cup technology to every product level?

Meet Svein Ivar Moen, the head of the Madshus ski testing department.

“I was born curious. I like to challenge the established conventions, and I look for ways to apply new and cutting edge innovation to all of our product lines,” the accomplished test technician says.

Moen came to Madshus in 2016, after more than 20 years as a wax technician and ski tester. From 1998 until 2014, he was the head wax tech with the Norwegian National Biathlon Team. But he has been the personal wax tech and equipment manager for Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the world’s most winning Olympic winter athlete to date, since 1997. Moen says the king of biathlon is a great partner in innovation.

“I’ve known Ole Einar Bjørndalen since we were 12 years old. We were buddies as kids, we went to the same high school, and working with him is great. He is demanding and he is a perfectionist. He is always looking to optimize everything, down to the last detail. If there are 50 factors and he does 49 of them perfectly, then he wants to improve the last one. I have the same approach to skis,” Moen says.

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) during a test camp at Sognefjellet. Photo: Madshus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) during a test camp at Sognefjellet. Photo: Madshus

Not all development is progress
“There is innovation and development is basically just change. But change doesn’t necessarily mean progress. You always have to ask: Why are we doing this? Is this truly progress, or are we just making a new thing? This is harsh, and you have to be willing to discard projects you’ve spent a lot of time on, but it’s the only way you actually progress,” Moen says.

Next, he explains, you always have to stay focused on the task.

“It’s important to consider: who are we making the skis for, and what are their needs,” he says.

The World Cup is a test lab
Moen explains that World Cup racers and recreational skiers have different needs and requirements. However, he points out, that doesn’t mean recreational skiers don’t need a top of the line product.

“At Madshus we use the World Cup as our test lab. Everything we bring to the World Cup and test at the very highest level is considered for a broad range of skiers. We use the same geometries, technologies and construction methods for our World Cup skis, our race performance series and our recreational skis, but we adjust the skis properties, such as flex and camber, to fit the different skiers’ needs. Again, it comes down to making sure we serve their needs,” Moen says.

Check out the Madshus Champion ski line 

Testing at the FIS level. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Testing at the FIS level. Photo: Stefano Zatta

What drives you to develop new skis and technology, year after year?
“I have always been curious, and the only thing I know to be true is that there is no set answer to anything, especially when you are working with snow and ice. Conditions are constantly changing and what worked yesterday can be worthless today, even if the temperature is the same and the snow is still white,” says Moen, explaining that this is exactly what triggers him.

“I love the challenge of working with a constantly moving target. So often, things are done a certain way because it’s always been done that way. There are so many myths and a tradition for doing things a certain way without challenging why,” he says.

Moen is different.

“I try to mix the basics and the established principles with new ideas. I keep track, measure and try to get objective answers. And I’m never content. I want to improve.”

What inspires you?
“In one word: Progress. Things can always get better, and I want to find out how. My favorite quote is from the legendary Norwegian soccer coach Nils Arne Eggen: When everyone’s content and in agreement, there is no progress.”

Three double podiums

Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (NOR) earned her first World Cup podium for the season when she won the 10km skate race in Davos (SUI) on Sunday. Photo: Nordic Focus
Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (NOR) earned her first World Cup podium for the season when she won the 10km skate race in Davos (SUI) on Sunday. Photo: Nordic Focus

Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (NOR) earned her first World Cup podium for the season when she won the 10km skate race in Davos (SUI) on Sunday. Photo: Nordic Focus

Madshus racers dominate both the biathlon and cross-country World Cup competitions on Sunday.

First, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (NOR) earn her first World Cup victory of the season, winning the 10-kilometer skate race in Davos (SUI) by five seconds.

“A race like this is what I train for every day of the year. I started out conservatively, and I really had no idea I was skiing all that fast, but the coaches kept telling me I as ahead. This was a fantastic day for me, and Davos is my favorite World Cup venue,” Østberg said after the race.

Krista Pärmäkoski (FIN) snagged the last podium spot, her second World Cup podium this season.

The next FIS World Cup races take place in Toblach (ITA) on December 16-17.

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Ole Einar Bjoerndalen skied the first leg for Norway at the IBU World Cup relay in Hochfilzen (AUT) on Sunday. Photo: Nordic Focus

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen skied the first leg for Norway at the IBU World Cup relay in Hochfilzen (AUT) on Sunday. Photo: Nordic Focus

At the IBU Biathlon World Cup relay, Ole Einar Bjørndalen helped Norway to a spectacular victory. The Norwegian team won by a 2-minute margin in the challenging conditions in Hochfilzen (AUT). Benedikt Doll skied the second leg for Germany, who was second after beating France by 40 seconds.

In the women’s relay, Vanessa Hinz skied the first leg for Germany and laid the foundation for first place, while Anais Bescond anchored France to third place.

The IBU World Cup now moves on to Annecy (FRA) on Dec 14 to 17 for the final round before Christmas.

Vanessa Hinz helped Germany to first place in the IBU World Cup relay in Hochfilzen (AUT) on Sunday. Photo: Nordic Focus

Vanessa Hinz helped Germany to first place in the World Cup relay 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.

Ready for World Cup-Level Racing in July

Heidi Weng at Lysebotn OPP last summer. Photo: Blink

Heidi Weng at Lysebotn OPP last summer. Photo: Blink

The Blink ski festival in Sandnes (NOR) opens on Wednesday and is now the largest summer ski festival in the world.

Each year, more than a 100 of the top World Cup level skiers and biathletes take part in the BLINK events, including Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Krista Pärmäkoski, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Heidi Weng, Øystein Pettersen and more. The festival and events are also open to future stars, elite and amateur skiers, and more than 5000 kids are expected to stop by the kids’ world section to try out roller skiing and laser biathlon.

This year’s BLINK summer ski festival takes place from July 26 to July 29, and features a number of races and events, starting with the 60-kilometer Blink Classic classic roller ski race on July 26 that is a part of a brand new marathon roller ski world cup.

Next up is Lysebotn OPP on Thursday, July 27. The 7.5-kilometer uphill race is expected to be a fierce fight between Heidi Weng, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg and Krista Pärmäkoski – the Madshus’ turbo trio from the World Cup. Check out the start lists HERE

Friday July 28 and Saturday July 29 feature a number of cross-country and biathlon events in Sandnes city center, including sprints, super sprints and mass start races. Check out the complete schedule HERE

Kids get a chance to try their hand at biathlon. Photo: BLINK/ Axelar Svein Erik Fylkesnes

Kids get a chance to try their hand at biathlon. Photo: BLINK/ Axelar Svein Erik Fylkesnes

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