In late March, Norwegian biathlon ace Emil Hegle Svendsen complained to broadcaster NRK that the national team coaches were not spending enough time with the athletes, and that he hoped to see some changes.
He was speaking out of frustration: after the World Cup title had seemingly been within his reach – indeed he wore the yellow bib several times – Svendsen ended up second to Martin Fourcade of France in the rankings. Despite winning gold in the World Championships relay, it was one of the worst seasons for the Norwegian men in years.
Svendsen had tried to pin down what went wrong, saying that technique coach Torgeir Bjørn, who is also a commentator for NRK, was particularly absent and worked with the athletes mostly by phone.
“At least the women’s team has two biathlon coaches,” he said at the time. “We had a shooting coach and a physical trainer. Either the shooting coach is present or nobody is there. It is hard for us.”
It is now April and there have indeed been changes to the Norwegian coaching roster, but not exactly Svendsen had been suggesting. While federation leaders have reportedly asked Bjørn to choose between commentating and coaching, the one definite change has been the resignation of men’s head coach Mikael Löfgren.
“We realized that we need new blood on the men’s team, and it suited me to leave right now,” Löfgren told Swedish radio.
Erlend Slokvik, the vice president of the Norwegian federation, asserted that Löfgren, whose tenure until this season had brought incredible success to the men’s team, had not been fired.
“As a whole, we have not been satisfied with the results this year,” Slokvik told the VG newspaper. “It’s been a tough season and we have not got the results we wanted. Mikael found out that it was okay to give up.”
Löfgren, a Swede, was the overall World Cup champion in 1992 before turning to coaching. He worked at the National Sports Academy in Torsby beginning in 2000 and then took over as the U.S. national team coach in 2006 and left for Norway in 2008.
When he arrived, Norway was riding high: Ole Einar Bjørndalen had just won an overall World Cup title and Svendsen had been close behind in third. That success continued under Löfgren’s leadership, with the pair repeating their positions in the standings in 2009. Then Svendsen won the title in 2010 and newcomer Tarjei Bø in 2011.
This season, Martin Fourcade of France put on a dominating run at World Championships and then the final World Cup, becoming the first non-Norwegian to win the total score since Germany’s Michal Greis in 2007.
It was a season not without highlights for the Norwegians, as Svendsen took a handful of victories, Bjørndalen and Bø won once each, and the team earned another World Championship relay title.
But Bø seeming to be a completely different athlete than the year before and Bjørndalen was recovering from an injury; the pair placed seventh and sixteenth in the final rankings. Time and time again, the entire squad struggled, including in the World Championships pursuit, where they missed a devastating total of 19 shots and prompted much outcry in the Norwegian media.
“I feel completely awful,” Löfgren told the VG newspaper at the time. “It’s no fun. The guys can do so much better, but they don’t show it.”
It wasn’t the only time that the Norwegians were undone by poor shooting, and when the team finished World Championships without an individual gold medal there was speculation that Löfgren would be sacked. But the parting seemed to be relatively amicable, and Slokvik, the federation vice president, told media that Löfgren had been offered another job with the association.
Both Löfgren and the federation’s management seemed to be at a loss for why results had taken a tumble this season, saying that the team had been run almost identically to the previous, much more successful, year. To try to improve their fortunes next season, the team will ask the head coach to travel more with the athletes. Löfgren told NRK that he was uninterested in doing so and wanted to spend more time at home.
A new head coach has not yet been selected, but the federation has stated that it will be a Norwegian.
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