Biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who has collected a pile of World Championship and Olympic medals during his biathlon career, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week that he plans to retire after next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. He’s 39, and said it’s time to end his active career as what the Norwegians call a skiskytter (literally, “ski shooter”).
“It’s clearly a heavy decision,” Bjørndalen told NRK. “I think it’s fun to take part, to train hard and sacrifice everything – to put everything else aside to be the best possible in biathlon.”
Among the things he’s set aside recently is his marriage and many other aspects of a private life with normal workdays. He was back up in the high mountains of Sognefjellet this week, training as usual despite summer temperatures, and he still has grand ambitions of doing well at the next Olympics. His performance this past season was somewhat disappointing, but he’s gearing for a comeback, if only through next winter.
Bjørndalen, from the small community of Simostranda in Modum, Buskerud County, has acquired an impressive 94 World Cup victories, one of them in cross-country skiing, along with 11 Olympic and 37 World Championship medals. It’s not easy to give it all up after so many years of competing at the highest levels all over the world.
He’ll also be missed by his teammates including Norway’s new medal winner Emil Hegle Svendsen. “It will be strange without him on the team,” Svendsen told NRK. “He’s been here all the years that I’ve been on the team, and set the standard for training.”
Fellow biathlon star Tarjei Bø was also full of praise for Bjørndalen, with both Svendsen and Bø saying the veteran meant a lot for the sport. “It’s sad when such a great figure in the sport you love gives up,” Svendsen said. They agreed it was part of a generational shift.
“He’s getting older and older,” said Bø. “But it will be really different without him.” Others have been impressed and surprised that Bjørndalen managed to keep doing as well as he did in his late 30s, since many athletes retire long before then.
Bjørndalen had considered competing through the next World Championships in 2016, but then the “king of the Olympics” in Salt Lake City would be 42. He told NRK he has some plans for what he’ll do next, but didn’t want to reveal them yet. “I’m working quite intensively with them, and have a lot of meetings right now,” he said. “That’s good for my head, too, because then I can break away from what I do every single day.”