As the Olympic biathlon competitions at the Laura complex near Krasnaya Polyana draw ever closer, Emil Helgle Svendsen is in confident mood. “We have an extremely good team. It’s maybe the strongest we’ve ever had,” says the man from Trondheim. “Our preparation has been great. We’re ready.”
As well as Svendsen, in Sochi, Norway’s biathlon team will be able to count on the considerable talents of Tarjei and Johannes Bø, the legendary Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Vetle Sjastad Christiansen, Tora Berger, Synnøve Solemdal and Ann Kristin Flatland.
The Scandinavian nation looks likely to dominate the category, be it in the men’s, women’s or mixed relays, or in the individual events, in which Svendsen, a two-time Olympic champion, is almost sure to shine.
Svendsen’s career, during which he has often locked horns with the French brothers Simon and Martin Fourcade, has been interspersed with several remarkable feats that have propelled him to the very top of his sport.
Between 2003 and 2005, he collected seven medals – four of them gold – at the World Junior Championships. At the age of 20, he took part in his first Olympic Games in Turin, where he finished a respectable sixth in the mass start. From 2007 onwards, the Norwegian biathlete began to stamp his authority on all of the IBU World Cup disciplines.
The 2009-2010 season saw him fulfil his potential in style, as he became world number one, topped the overall World Cup standings to capture the large crystal globe, and earned three medals in Vancouver: a silver in the sprint behind France’s Vincent Jay, and golds in the 20km individual and men’s relay (with Halvard Hannevold, Tarjei Bø and Ole Einar Bjørndalen).
His medal haul from seven Biathlon World Championships stands at an impressive 17 (including 11 golds). At the 2013 Worlds in Nové Město na Moravě (CZE), Svendsen recorded his best performance to date, medalling in every event he had entered by triumphing in the sprint, pursuit, men’s relay and mixed relay, and claiming third spot in the mass start.
Off to a flier
Svendsen has continued to excel in 2014, enthralling an enthusiastic crowd in Oberhof (GER) on 3 and 4 January with victories in the sprint and pursuit. The following week, he travelled south to Ruhpolding, where he won the 20km individual and pursuit, totalling just one shooting error and picking up his 34th and 35th World Cup triumphs.
In addition, he extended his number of podium appearances to 71 and landed a small crystal globe (for the 20km individual). “I’ve found a way to focus on the right things,” he explains. “I try to do it every time. Now I don’t allow myself to slack off after a good race. I think that’s the recipe for success. I’ve been working hard on the mental side of things so I hope I can keep it going. I did a lot of shooting practice this summer and autumn. I’m stronger on the shooting range this year; it’s one of my advantages. It’ll be fun to see if I can keep it all together.”
As a sporting star in the country that has enjoyed the most success at the Olympic Winter Games, Emil Hegle Svendsen is aware that much is expected of him. “For me, it’s always been like that. I’m 28; I’m not a rookie anymore. I have to live with it and do my best. Expectations are high, but I also have high expectations myself, so they match pretty well,” he explains.
His double win in Ruhpolding – his last World Cup outing before the Games – left him in an ideal frame of mind for his latest Olympic challenge. “It feels good to think that my next race is the Olympic sprint in Sochi,” he enthuses. “I’m really looking forward to next month.”