ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – In a sport where one missed shot can be the difference between Olympic gold and calamity, biathlon provided some of the most enthralling action of the Beijing Games with Norway, Sweden and France all shining in tough conditions.
The Norwegians saw incredible performances by Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Johannes Thingnes Boe as they willed themselves and their teams to victory, with elder Boe brother Tarjei also snaring his first individual Olympic medal.
Norway won a whopping 14 biathlon medals in Beijing — six gold, two silver and six bronze — as the younger Boe brother once again showed he would not be slowed by the odd miss on the range thanks to his lightning-fast skiing.
“I think biathlon is in an even better place after this Olympics. We have seen some crazy, crazy races,” Boe told Reuters as the curtain came down on events at the National Biathlon Centre in Zhangjiakou.
Quentin Fillon Maillet showed France there is life after the retirement of five-time Olympic champion Martin Fourcade, with two gold and three silver medals, part of a total of seven biathlon medals for the French.
2022 will be the last Games for many of the more senior competitors in the sport but Beijing showed there is good reason to be excited about the changing of the guard.
The hottest star to emerge from the freezing Zhangjiakou mountains will likely be Swede Elvira Oeberg, who won two individual silver medals in addition to a precious relay gold with her older sister Hanna.
More than the medals itself it was the way she earned them that points to a bright future, the 22-year-old showing an iron resolve which the northern Swedish mining town of Kiruna where she was born would be proud of.
Oeberg displayed a maturity beyond her years in Beijing but broke down in tears at the end of Friday’s final race, the 12.5 km mass start, as her Olympic experience finally overwhelmed her.
Even if they had no medals to show for it, there were also encouraging performances from the United States and Canadian teams as difficult weather conditions levelled the playing field.
Many of those who got their first taste of the Olympics in Beijing will be back in 2026, inspired by the likes of Boe and Oeberg — and intent on taking their Olympic crowns.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Peter Rutherford)