Biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen retires

Citing health issues, the biathlon legend ends his 25-year career in the sport at age 44

Ole EInar Bjørndalen

Photo:Sergei Kazantsev / Wikimedia Commons
Ole EInar Bjørndalen (center) won his last Olympic gold medal in Sochi in 2014.

Jo Christian Weldingh

“I would have loved to compete for a couple more seasons, but this will be my last one,” Ole Einar Bjørndalen, 44, said during a packed press conference, held at his birthplace Simostranda.

After a disappointing season with 12th place as his best result, the biathlon legend, or Der Meister as he is known throughout Biathlon Europe, has decided to retire, mainly because of health issues. Bjørndalen revealed that he experienced atrial fibrillation last summer, something that affected his training heading into the season and probably cost him a spot in his seventh Olympics. Without the heart issues, he would have continued for at least one more season, he said.

The decision was made during his Easter holiday. “In a way I wish I could say I’m unmotivated and that I feel like I’ve had enough success, but I can’t. I’m just as motivated as I have ever been, but after speaking to my doctor and with my family, I have decided that this is the right decision,” he said, struggling to hold back tears every time he talked about his career ending.

Bjørndalen’s retirement really is the end of an era. He has been a part of the biathlon circuit for 25 years, debuting in 1993. He has competed in almost 600 World Cup races—approximately 4,000 miles combined—and won 96 World Cup victories, which is more than any other winter sport athlete. He has won 13 Olympic medals: eight gold, four silver, and one bronze—tied with Norwegian cross-contry skier Bjørn Dæhlie as top male Winter Olympian—and 45 World Championship medals: 20 gold, 14 silver, and 11 bronze.

When asked about what he is the most proud of, he points out his first Olympic gold medal from Nagano in 1998. “It’s the most intense experience I’ve ever had. I was just about to secure the victory when the race was canceled due to poor weather conditions, so I had to race again, and I won, again. I won that gold medal two times over.”

Ole Einar Bjørndalen

Photo: Guillaume Baviere / Wikimedia Commons
Bjørndalen competes in March 2016 at the World Championships at Holmenkollen.

He is also proud of his last gold medal from Sochi in 2014. “I was 40 years old and everyone had written me off years ago. Proving everyone wrong felt really good!”

Norwegian biathletes have been celebrating Bjørndalen’s career on social media ever since the news of his retirement came out.

“It’s impossible to think about a biathlon season without Ole Einar, but I guess there’s a time for everything. No matter what he does next, he will always be an exceptional athlete,” former World- and Olympic champion Liv Grete Skjelbreid wrote on Facebook, before highlighting the Olympic victories in Nagano and Salt Lake City (2002) as Børndalen’s biggest achievements.

Former teammate Halvard Hanevold was also full of praise. “He is amazing. I am forever grateful to have been his friend and to have been able to be his teammate. People have asked me how it was to live in his shadow, but it was never like that. Without him, my career wouldn’t have been as good as it was. He is the prime example of what an athlete should be like,” he wrote.

Bjørndalen’s wife, Darya Domracheva, also celebrated her husband on social media. “And the winner is… OLE EINAR BJØRNDALEN, The king of biathlon, the king in life. I am very proud of this man. A man who broke barriers, a man who broke stereotypes. His career is an example for millions on how to fight for one’s goal. A career that will inspire many generations to come. His behavior in life is an example for everyone about how to respect others. How to handle difficulties. How to be a human. Simply a winner,” she wrote on her Instagram account.

There has been some speculation on whether or not Bjørndalen would continue his biathlon career next year after he didn’t qualify for the Olympics earlier this year. Even though he didn’t qualify as an athlete, he traveled to South Korea as a part of the team around his wife, a Belarusan biathlete. From the sideline, he watched her win one gold and one silver medal.

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.

This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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