Victory in Vancouver for Magdalena Neuner
Victory in Vancouver cemented Magdalena Neuner’s place as one of the greatest of all biathletes and was the highpoint of a career that blazed brightly but turned out to be much shorter than most expected.
Having won five world junior titles, Neuner made her World Cup debut in 2006, at the age of 19. Her first victory came in 2007, and she followed up by winning three gold medals at that year’s Worlds, having just turned 20. The following year she claimed the overall World Cup title, as well as another three world championship golds. It was clear that the sport of biathlon had welcomed a very special athlete into its ranks.
After such an explosive beginning, Neuner experienced some health problems which saw her form dip slightly. Her shooting, which had never been as strong as her skiing, became erratic and cost her several victories. But at the Olympic rehearsal in Vancouver in March 2009, Neuner confirmed her return to form, claiming the World Cup title for the year, as well as winning the relay with the German team and coming second in the sprint. She started her Olympic campaign in the sprint and shot well, recording only one miss, but still finished behind the surprise winner, Anastasia Kuzmina of Slovakia.
Three days later, though, she was unbeatable in the pursuit. Once again Kuzmina provided the toughest obstacle, but Neuner overtook the Slovak early in the race and shot well to win by 12 seconds.
The German then struggled in the 15km individual and finished only tenth. That left the mass start. Two misses on the shooting range put her nearly half a minute behind the leader, but she produced a fantastic burst of pace over the closing stages, as well as a clean final shoot, to take first place on the final lap. With two golds and a silver, Neuner was Germany’s most successful athlete in Vancouver and was rewarded with the honour of carrying her country’s flag at the Closing Ceremony.
The victories continued after Vancouver. In the course of seven seasons, she secured no fewer than 34 World Cup wins and finished on the podium a staggering 63 times. In March 2012, she retired, claiming that she had lost her motivation and wanted to enjoy “a normal life”.