Ole Einar Bjoerndalen
Supreme At Soldier Hollow
To prepare for the thin air of Salt Lake City, home of the 2002 Olympics, Bjoerndalen trained in other high-altitude regions. The Soldier Hollow course, the biathlon site in Salt Lake, was 6,000 feet above sea level. Soldier Hollow, according to Baum, posed a special challenge. "It is a hillier course at a higher elevation than all others, which puts an enormous cardiovascular strain on competitors. Upon passing the finish line yesterday, most collapsed to the snow, though we hesitate to say 'as if shot.' Not that they complain. 'It's all hills,' (British veteran Mike) Dixon said. 'And the altitude… it's really hard. It's great.'"
Bjoerndalen began his medals run with a victory in the 20 km. Later in the same week, he was one of only nine competitors to hit every target while winning the 10 km by 29 seconds. After finishing first in the men's 12.5 km pursuit, he secured his fourth gold by anchoring Norway's 4×7.5 km relay team despite falling on a downhill stretch and missing three shots in a snowfall that made shooting difficult. "Norway, despite Bjoerndalen's formidable presence, looked to have a weaker team than the Germans and the Russians," the British Broadcasting Corporation wrote on its web site. "But Bjoerndalen set off for the final leg with a minute's cushion after his three teammates (Halvard Hanevold, Frode Andresen and Egil Gjelland) all produced fine performances."
"Bjoerndalen's skiing is so superior that when teammate Egil Gjelland tagged off to him with Norway in the lead by almost a minute, Bjoerndalen could've lost a pole and still won," Beth Bragg wrote in the Anchorage Daily News. Bjoerndalen did in fact break a pole on the course as well as tumbling downhill and missing three targets. Despite the fifteen-second penalty Norwar incurred because of those errors, the Norwegian team placed first in the competition. After securing his fourth gold of the Olympiad and Norway's first gold ever in the relay, Bjoerndalen raised his arms, hugged his teammates and embraced his fiancee, Natalie Santer.
"A workmanlike approach—and exquisite skiing—made Bjoerndalen a champion for the ages," Bragg wrote. "A vocal and visible contingent of flag-waving Norwegian fans cheered his every shot and every kilometer here at Soldier Hollow, and Bjoerndalen promised there would be a big party Wednesday night."
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