Incredible work ethic
Ole Einar Bjørndalen has been described by teammates and rivals alike as the consummate professional. When he missed three weeks of training in 2008 because of illness, he claims it was the first time in fifteen years that he had taken more than three days off. His teammate Lars Berger adds, "He's very strong, both physically and psychologically, and he's always under control. Even after successful races, he goes back to work, as if from point zero." Bjørndalen also keeps busy as the chairman of the International Biathlon Union athlete's committee, working to promote the sport world-wide.
Health trumps everything
Bjørndalen is extremely conscious of health and hygiene, even more than most elite athletes. He never drinks alcohol, except he does gargle with cognac each morning to kill invading bacteria. He carries a small bottle of hand sanitizer which he applies each time he shakes hands with co-competitors, officials or well-wishers. Fearful of catching a cold, he often spends the Christmas holidays training at high altitude rather than at family gatherings in his residence of Obertilliach, Austria. Even his love-life takes second place to biathlon. At the Salt Lake Games, he would only agree to meet then-girlfriend (now wife) Nathalie Santer on the street, and not in closed quarters, and public displays of affection were kept to a minimum.
Salt Lake sweep
At the 2002 Salt Lake Games, Bjørndalen became just the third winter Olympian to win at least four gold medals in a single Games, following two speed skaters, Lydia Skoblikova of the Soviet Union (1964) and Eric Heiden of the United States (1980). Dominating is the best word to describe his performance at Soldier Hollow. In the four events - the Olympic program increased to five in 2006 - Bjørndalen came to the finish line an average of 38 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
Bridge to controversy
Bjørndalen came away from the 2009 World Championships with four gold medals, bringing his career total to 14. One of the medals, however, was temporarily revoked and replaced with a bronze medal. In the 12.5km pursuit, he took a wrong turn early in the race, taking about a dozen pursuers across a bridge instead of under it. After he finished 41 seconds ahead of Russia's Maxim Tchoudov, the Russians filed a protest and the race committee added one minute to each of the perpetrators, bumping the Norwegian to bronze. 45 minutes later, a counter-protest from seven countries (including the U.S.) was accepted and the original results were restored. It was later determined that the detour saved Bjørndalen and the others 10 meters, a drop in the bucket for a 12,500-meter race.
Chasing Daehlie and Phelps
In February 2009, Bjørndalen won his 87th World Cup event, the most in a career by any winter athlete. One year later, the "Biathlon King" is on the verge of breaking the career record for medals won at the Olympic Winter Games. With nine medals in four previous Olympic appearances, he needs four more to pass his iconic countryman, cross-country skier Bjoern Daehlie, on the all-time list. If all four medals are gold, he will also pass Daehlie for the most gold medals by a winter athlete. Even though he has indicated that he would like to retire after the 2014 Sochi Games, he is still a long way from catching U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps (currently 16) on the overall Olympic medal list.
Bjørndalen grew up on a farm in Simostranda, a small town southwest of Oslo, the fourth of five children. He began training for biathlon at age 10, alongside his older brother Dag. An early idol was German Olympic biathlete Mark Kirchner. At 16, he left home to attend the renowned Norwegian ski school in Geilo, and within four years made his Olympic debut at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. In the early stages of his career, his most influential "coach" was Oyvind Hammer, a vacuum salesman who helped Bjørndalen develop a strong mental edge.
Popularity cast in bronze
In Norway, Bjørndalen is a living legend. In September 2008, a 1,000-pound, life-sized, bronze sculpture bearing his likeness - created by Denver-based sculptor Kristin Kokkin - was unveiled outside of Simostranda. King Harald V of Norway was in attendance for the ceremony, as was Bjørndalen, who rarely comes home other than to visit his father. In an interview with Russia's Sport Express, he commented on the work: "My first reaction was, 'I'm not dead yet! My career isn't even over!' But they convinced me that my results in Salt Lake City were important enough to immortalize the moment of triumph for my supporters. I have to say, I was very pleased with the final result."