Those ten days in China will surely produce some memorable moments, but in the meantime, let’s take a quick run through some of the biggest Olympic Biathlon moments and personalities from the last sixteen Winter Olympiads.
Thirty men lined up for the first 20 km individual, armed with 30.06 big-bore military-style rifles and wooden classic skis and what could described as hunting clothes, complete with baseball-brim woolen hats. Sweden’s Klas Lestander shot clean to capture the first Olympic Biathlon Gold medal.
Austria hosted the second OWG biathlon competition at Seefeld with the field growing to 51 men. Vladimir Melanin of the Soviet Union shot clean, as did teammate Aleksandr Privalov, with Melanin taking the Gold medal and Privalov Silver.
Biathlon started to change before Grenoble, the 20 km remained, still a seemingly military event, with the big heavy rifles and targets 100-250 meters away, but suddenly there was a second competition, the relay. Au Trans, just a few kilometers from Villard de Lans, the home of the Martin Fourcade, Marie Dorin Habert and Emilien Jacquelin, hosted the first-ever Olympic relay. Magnar Solberg won the 20 km with the Soviet Union taking its first of six consecutive Olympic Relay Gold medals. Running the leadoff leg on that team was Alexander Tikhonov who would win Olympic Relay Gold medals in four consecutive Winter Olympiads.
Solberg and the Soviet Union defended their 1968 titles at the first Olympic Winter Games held in Asia at Sapporo, Japan.
Biathlon returned to Seefeld in 1976 with the two traditional competitions but change was in the air. The sprint was added to the World Championships in 1974, but was not part of the 1976 OWG. Nicolai Kruglov won the 20 km, becoming the first double Olympic Biathlon Gold medalist as part of the Soviet Union’s winning relay team.
Lake Placid hosted the OWG for the second time (first in 1932), but 1980 was revolutionary for biathlon. Biathlon had moved from the 30.06 to .22 caliber rifle and were now shooting at the clap-and-fall targets at the new modern distance of 50 meters. The sprint made its debut at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg venue with a familiar name, Frank Ullrich of East Germany taking the first-ever Olympic Sprint Gold medal.
Germany’s Peter Angerer won the 20 km individual, Erik Kvalfoss of Norway the sprint and the Soviet Union took another Relay Gold medal. Familiar names of today popped up in the results, including Italian Head Coach Andreas Zingerle and Austria’s shooting guru Alfred Eder, father of the sharp-shooting, two-time Olympic medalist Simon.
The Canmore Nordic Center hosted biathlon with East Germany’s Frank-Peter Roetsch, who was the first man to win a World Cup competition using skate technique taking both the 20 km and sprint while the Soviet Union won their final Relay Gold medal.
1992 saw the biggest-ever change in Olympic biathlon with women’s competitions conducted for the first time, in the 1650-meter thin air at Les Saisies. Germany dominated these competitions with Antje (Misersky) Harvey winning the Women’s 15 km Individual Gold medal, 7.5 km Sprint and Relay Silver medals. Current German Men’s Head Coach Mark Kirchner shot clean to win Sprint Gold, ran the third relay leg for Germany’s Gold medal team and won the 20 km Individual Silver medal with three penalties, just 6.4 seconds behind Evgenij Redkin.
Still 1992 was all about the recognition of women’s biathlon: same competitions…well almost the women’s relay won by France was a 3 X 7.5 km affair. France’s Gold medal was the nation’s first of any kind in biathlon, with Corinne Niogret, Ann Briand-Bouthiaux, and Veronique Claudel kickstarting France’s love affair with the relay and what is today one of the strongest national teams in the sport.
Biathlon’s popularity was confirmed when thousands of fans hiked up to and down from Birkebeineren Ski Stadium every competition day in extremely cold conditions to watch competitors from a record 32 nations battle for the medals. Germany won the most medals with six with Frank Luck and Sven Fischer taking sprint Silver and Bronze, while Ricco Gross won 20 km Individual Silver. The trio teamed up with 1992 Sprint Gold medalist Kirchner to win Olympic Relay Gold medal. Miriam Bedard of Canada won both the 15 km individual and 7.5 km sprint, becoming the first biathlete outside of Europe or Russia to win Olympic Gold. France added two more Olympic Relay medals with the women taking Bronze to match the men.
The 1998 Olympic Biathlon competitions were held in the hot springs resort town of Nozawa Onsen, where 20-30 cm of heavy wet snow fell from the sky every day. That memorable snow started the legendary career of Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The Norwegian’s career-defining moment came when the men’s sprint that he was leading was cancelled mid-race due to heavy snow and impenetrable fog. The next day, after skies cleared, he picked up right where he left off, and shot clean again, to win his first Olympic Gold medal. Bjoerndalen later took the tag from his brother Dag in the men’s relay anchoring Norway to the Silver medal.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, IBU Archive, US Biathlon/Art Stegen