(ATR) Large and enthusiastic crowds are flocking to see what might be the final major races of Ole Einar Bjoerndalen’s legendary biathlon career.
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen competes on Thursday, March 10 (Getty)
Bjoerndalen has won two silver medals at the IBU World Biathlon Championships at Oslo’s venerable Holmenkollen Ski Arena. The Norwegian icon and IOC member has two races remaining at the championships, which conclude on Sunday. The 42-year-old Bjoerndalen has been tight-lipped regarding retirement, but many surmise the home races at Holmenkollen will be his finale.
Oslo 2016 CEO Per Bergerud said that Bjoerndalen has boosted the profile of the championships and Sunday will be a very emotional day, as the Norwegian star skis in the final event, the men’s 12.5 km pursuit.
“To Norway he means a lot – both from the interest side of the sport and of course we have used him in the marketing of the world championship,” Bergerud told Around the Rings
. “To have this kind of legend has been very good for us.”
“I think most of the media people, the national federation and we as organizers didn’t think he could be that good here,” Bergerud said of the 42-year-old biathlon great. “He has surprised everybody.”
Bjoerndalen initially planned to retire after the Sochi 2014 Olympics as he was voted to the IOC Athletes Commission, but then changed his mind. Once again, his status remains in question.
Norwegian fans are relishing the opportunity to see the “King of Biathlon” at what could be his final competition.
“It’s very special to see him here – he has been in this game for 20 years or more and hopefully he will do well in these final races,” said Norwegian fan Olav Aanestad.
“It’s a people’s party here with everyone cheering for Ole Einer,” said 23-year-old Norwegian Mia Holm.
“He said these are his last races, but I don’t trust him,” said Anne Svarlund.
Bjoerndalen has attained 42 career world championship medals, more than double of any athlete in the sport’s history.
While most have come out to support Bjoerndalen, Martin Fourcade of France has been the dominant athlete of the championships, winning four of his country’s championship leading five gold medals.
Oslo 2016 CEO Per Bergerud (ATR)
Bergerud advised that ticket sales have been brisk. He said 127,000 tickets have been sold to date, exceeding the organization’s goal of 125,000. The men’s relay on Saturday, featuring Bjoerndalen, is sold-out as 27,000 tickets have been allocated. Evening medal ceremonies and concerts at University Square in downtown Oslo have drawn crowds approaching 20,000 spectators.
The only problem that organizers have faced has been managing the race schedule around a dense fog that shrouded the Holmenkollen venue over recent days. The women’s 15km race on Wednesday was moved up 2.5 hours from a 3:30pm to 1pm start time due to heavy fog hovering over the course.
“We had to inform all the people who had bought tickets,” Bergerud said. “We were lucky because on that day we only had between five- and six-thousand spectators and almost all came up to Holmenkollen two and a half hours earlier.”
The fog moved just prior to Thursday’s men’s 20km race, in which Bjoerndalen finished 17th, and it is expected to remain clear for the final days of competition.
Team Norway gathers before Thursday's race (ATR)
In terms of economics, the cost of staging the championships is 100 million NOK (11.7 million USD) according to Bergerud. The breakdown is: 45% from ticket sales, 25% sponsors, 22% from the Norwegian government and the remainder from merchandise sales.
Bergerud said that the 11-day championships in the Norwegian capital, March 3-13, are on target to make a profit of 5 million NOK (585,000 USD).
Considering the success of February’s Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer and the tremendous support that the Norwegians have shown for the biathlon championships, Bergerud said he hopes for another Norwegian Olympic bid.
“For sure, Norway should apply for the Olympics – I think already in 2026,” Bergerud said. “With Norway’s tradition, we can afford it, and it would be very good for the people of Norway. More than 60-percent of the Norwegian people are interested in winter sport and I think it would be very good for the athletes also.”
The Holmenkollen National Ski Arena, which is perched on a hillside overlooking the Norwegian capital, has been home to the Norwegian Sports Festival since 1892. The 2016 Biathlon championship marks the third time that Holmenkollen has been the venue for the IBU marquee event, following 1986 and 2000.
Written by Brian Pinelli in Oslo
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