Meet Sturla Holm Lægreid: the rising star inspired by Ole Einar Bjørndalen

Shaking up the biathlon world order is no mean feat, but the 24-year-old Norwegian is making it look easy. Get to know the man behind the medals.

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

To call Sturla Holm Lægreid's breakthrough in men’s biathlon spectacular would barely do it justice.

The 24-year-old Norwegian burst onto the scene in incredible fashion, enjoying one of the greatest first full IBU World Cup seasons in history.

Having made the top 10 once in four World Cup races in 2019/20, Lægreid stunned everyone by taking victory in the 2020/21 season opener at Kontiolahti, Finland.

It was just the beginning.

The highlight came at last February's World Championships in Pokljuka, Poland where the man from Bærum clinched an incredible four golds: in the 20km individual, 15km mass start, 4x7.5km relay and mixed relay.

Lægreid ended the World Cup season with seven victories and 10 podium finishes, ending up just 13 points behind compatriot Johannes Thingnes Bø in the battle for the overall Crystal Globe.

However, he did claim Crystal Globes for the individual and pursuit disciplines - partly thanks to making a superb 92.6 percent of his shots all season - and no one is more surprised at the rate of ascent than the man himself.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said to IBU TV “This year has been like a fairy tale; it’s hard to describe what happened in one year.”

Just who, then, is this new biathlon phenomenon and what exactly makes him tick?

Read on to find out more about the guitar-playing, meditating athlete who one day hopes to study nanotechnology.

Sturla Holm Laegreid of Norway competes during during the Men 4x7.5 km Relay Competition at the IBU World Championships Biathlon
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Sturla Holm Lægreid: a chance encounter with the ‘King of Biathlon’

Lægreid took up biathlon aged 10 thanks to a friend who, already involved in the sport, invited him to come along to training.

Just a few years later, the young hopeful had a chance encounter with Norwegian biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjørndalen, also known as the 'King of Biathlon', and it touched his athletic career in a very special way.

“I met him as a teenager and was impressed by his success,” Lægreid shared with Biathlon-News. “He had a great influence on me.”

Bjørndalen won 13 Olympic medals, eight of them gold, in a stellar career.

While Lægreid has a long way to go to even get close to his countryman, he's already grouped along some of the sport's all-time greats.

His four golds at a single World Championship saw him join his idol Martin Fourcade, Bjørndalen and Emile Hegle Svendsen in an elite group of male biathletes.

READ MORE: Ole Einar Bjorndalen & Darya Domracheva coaching the Chinese biathlon team ahead of Beijing 2022

Sturla Holm Lægreid and Johannes Thingnes Bø: respect and rivalry

In years past, the once great rivalry in men’s biathlon was between Fourcade and Bø.

The two had a somewhat frosty relationship with 12-time World Championship gold medallist Bø admitting there were times they would not even greet each other.

After Fourcade's sudden retirement in 2020, the expectation was that Bø would enjoy life unchallenged at the front of the pack.

Then came Lægreid's rise, but their relationship is poles apart from the one he had with the flying Frenchman.

Being compatriots no doubt helps, but even Bø is surprised at the warmth they have for each other.

“I knew I would be very disappointed if I reached the finish line and Sturla was stood there cheering,” Bø shared with Eurosport after last year’s season finale to decide the overall World Cup winner.

“When I first reached the finish line, I really just wanted to receive him, and let him calm down a bit. But he greeted me with a smile and congratulated me on a good season. He took it so calmly.

“I quickly realised that he was not stressed that he could not do it, and that he has the threat that he can do it in the future because he knows that one day it will happen. I gained a lot of respect for Sturla at the moment."

While there may be mutual respect between the two biathlon stars, that hasn’t stopped them from watching what the other is up to.

When the toughest competition lies within your own team, it makes sense to use that to advantage, and Lægreid - who admits there is room for improvement in his skiing - told Fasterskier that he does precisely that:

“There is a lot of skill and experience in the Norwegian national team. We learn a lot from each other, and this process is particularly useful for me, who is still quite new to the World Cup level.

“I try to copy and what they do and incorporate those elements in my own training program,” explained Lægreid. "When I see they ski fast, I try to note exactly what they do I don’t ski 100 percent the same way they ski, but I try to observe what they do and experiment with how I can adapt that to the way I ski.”

READ MORE: Winter Olympic rivalries: Norway's Johannes Thingnes Bø and Sturla Holm Lægreid

Sturla Holm Lægreid: biathlon's jack of all trades

It is not just on the snow that Lægreid is accomplished.

When he is not skiing and shooting, you might see him reading Stephen King horror novels or finding his inner peace meditating.

The one thing above all you are sure to find him doing is practising his favourite passion: playing guitar.

“I play a lot of guitar just to relax myself and to think about other stuff. I really like to travel with my guitar in the season," the biathlete said speaking to IBU TV.

His favourite tune to strum to?

“My favourite song throughout my childhood was Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin) because it’s such a good build-up and it’s also a very iconic song to play on guitar, so I think that is the song I’ve played a lot.”

If he were not in the elite rungs of his sport, Lægreid is sure that he would be an engineer thanks to his affinity with numbers:

“I was quite good in academics – maths and science especially so I had the goals of studying nanotechnology. My hope is to study that after my career."

Sturla Holm Lægreid: Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

With relatively little to go off bar his exceptional haul in his first full season, how Lægreid will fare at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is a big talking point for biathlon fans.

Can he repeat his tremendous World Championship haul in the Chinese capital? Lightning, they say, does not strike twice and that sort of thinking informs his approach to the Games and beyond.

“To ask for a season of the same calibre is very selfish,” says Lægreid opening up in an interview with Biathlon World. “I had plenty of time to think about it and it is still difficult to comprehend what I did.

"I am always thinking ahead; what I can do better, what is the next goal. Now, I am not thinking about what I have done, but things to come like Olympics. I have many more years in my career so there are improvements to be made in shooting and skiing. I am just looking forward."

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