Say what you will about Ole Einar Bjørndalen, but he just won’t quit.
The 40-year-old Norwegian biathlete proved that once again, he’s lasted one more season than everyone expected. He won the men’s mass start in Sjusjøen, Norway, over a field of the world’s top competitors, many of whom are more than 10 years younger than him.
Bjørndalen was in the news recently when he was awarded the “Best Male Athlete of the 2014 Olympics” by the Association of National Olympic Committees. But today – less than ten days after traveling back from the awards ceremony, which was held in Bangkok, Thailand – he was back to winning races.
It was teammate Lars Helge Birkeland who went into the final stage with the lead, and he shot a clean round to hit the trails still in first place.
“That’s what’s cool,” Birkeland told Norwegian broadcaster NRK after the race. “I love that kind of duel in standing shooting, so it really got me going.”
After that it was Bjørndalen dueling it out with fellow veteran and World Cup Champion Emil Hegle Svendsen. Both shot slowly and deliberately. Svendsen picked up one penalty, but Bjørndalen hit the trails and caught Birkeland by the finish, beating him by 6.7 seconds.
“Then I managed to get him at the end,” Bjørndalen said.
He noted that it felt good to win, especially as he has been teased about the new curved Exel poles he is using this season. The unusual design certainly didn’t slow him down today.
“It’s nice to win,” he told NRK, according to a translation. “I have received so much criticism for having changed poles, so it was nice to show that you can go fast with that kind poles too.”
Svendsen ended up third +19.7; each of the podium finishers had a single penalty on the day.
Martin Fourcade, who won two gold medals at the Olympics as well as the overall World Cup title last season, went into the final shooting with Bjørndalen and Svendsen. But the French biathlete, who appears to have recovered from a bout of mononucleosis just fine, missed three shots in the last standing stage.
With clean final stages, Norway’s Erlend Bjøntegaard and Johannes Thingnes Bø finished fourth and fifth, with two and three penalties respectively. Alexis Boeuf of France rounded out the top six with a single missed shot.
Fellow Norwegian Alexander Os, who had a dominant and surprising win in the sprint, finished a disappointing 16th place, with three penalties and 2:39 behind the winner.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.