Ole Einar Bjoerndalen
Liked Target Shooting
Bjoerndalen was adept at cross-country skiing while growing up in the small Norwegian town of Simostranda, but opted for biathlon because he enjoyed target shooting. "Often ridiculed in the United States as a freak sport, the biathlon has its roots in Nordic warfare," Charlie Leduff wrote in the New York Times. The event surfaced in the Olympics in 1928 as a demonstration sport, called military patrol, and became a medal event in 1960, at Squaw Valley, California.
"Biathlon is the sport of the lean and the long," Greg Baum wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. "The skis are skinny, the skiers more so. Bjoerndalen is 179 cm (about 5-foot-10) and just 66kg (about 146 pounds).… Protagonists skate up hill and down dale, stopping twice to shoot at a set of five targets, once from the prone position and once upright. For each missed target, competitors
must do a 150m 'penalty loop,' costing up to 20 seconds, depending on skiing ability."
Bjoerndalen, who could have made Norway's powerhouse cross-country team on skiing skills alone, introduced the speed element to biathlon. He competed in the 1994 Winter Olympics, which Norway hosted in Lillehammer. He won no medals, but in World Cup competition improved to fourth and second in 1995 and 1997, respectively. In the 1998 Games at Nagano, Japan, Bjoerndalen won the gold medal in a10km event interrupted for a day by heavy snow and fog. "I was really angry," Bjoerndalen said, according to the Anchorage Daily News. "But five minutes later I was ready for the new race." He was also part of a silver medalist 4×7.5km team in Nagano.