For the first time since 1992, Ole Einar Bjørndalen will be doing the same thing as you come Winter Olympics time: he’ll be watching it.
Okay, not just like you, but Bjørndalen – who made his Olympic debut in 1994 and went on to become the most successful Winter Olympian of all time with eight gold and five other medals – won’t be on the Norwegian biathlon team.
Instead, the husband of Belorussian superstar Darya Domracheva will be watching her. The couple have a 15-month-old daughter together.
Domracheva won three gold medals at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and will be trying to make more history for her country. She has already won half of Belarus’s total Winter Olympic gold medals in the time since the country left the Soviet Union.
After taking a break for the 2016 season, Domracheva returned and won silver in the pursuit at 2017 World Championships; this season, she has already won a World Cup sprint.
While she takes the start line, Bjørndalen won’t. It’s not from lack of trying. He competed in four World Cup weekends this winter and was intending to go to PyeongChang.
He even resigned from a position on the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete Commission to focus on preparing for the Games.
But his top finishes this season came in Östersund, Sweden, with a pair of 18th-place results.
That’s not enough for the Norwegian team. In an announcement on Monday, the Norwegian Olympic Committee named Johannes Thingnes Bø, Tarjei Bø, Emil Hegle Svendsen, Lars Helge Birkeland, Erlend Bjøntegård, and Henrik L’Abee-Lund as the men’s biathlon team for PyeongChang.
“I think it would be wrong to take Bjørndalen [to the Olympics],” Norwegian Biathlon Head of Sport Per Arne Botnan told NRK. “We will go with athletes to the championships so that they perform. He is not at the level he has been before previous championships. It would be unfair if we didn’t include those who have fulfilled the Olympic criteria.”
Johannes Bø has won seven World Cups this season, and Tarjei Bø one; they sit second and fourth in the overall World Cup rankings. Svendsen has a podium and three fourth-place finishes, while Bjøntegård and L’Abee-Lund have each finished twice in the top ten, and Birkeland once in the top ten.
Critics were somewhat skeptical of Bjørndalen’s push for the 2014 Olympics, but there he opened the Games by winning the 10 k sprint.
He thinks he could do it again.
“I could take a medal at the Olympics,” Bjørndalen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, according to a translation. “But there are others who are taken onto the team. I have not shown good form and have delivered poor results.”
“Unfortunately, [Bjørndalen] has not met the requirements, and there are other athletes on the team who have performed better and fulfilled the criteria,” Tore Øvrebø, senior vice president of the Olympic Committee, wrote in the organization’s statement on Monday, according to a translation. “These athletes obviously deserve the opportunity to participate in PyeongChang.”
According to NRK, there were arguments between the Olympic Committee – who wanted Bjørndalen in South Korea – and the biathlon federation, which had made the decision that he didn’t qualify.
Bjørndalen is on the Norwegian roster for the next IBU Cup races. According to the International Biathlon Union database, he has never before competed on the second-tier circuit.
“The motivation is no less, even if I don’t go to the Olympics,” Bjørndalen insisted to NRK. “It’s just getting my body going, and I hope it responds to training now.”
On the women’s side, Marte Olsbu, Synnøve Solemdal, and Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold have qualified for PyeongChang. The 2014 bronze medalist in the mass start, Tiril Eckhoff, has not yet finished in the top 20. But while the men’s team is filled, two more women should be chosen for the team after this week’s World Cup competitions in Antholz, Italy.
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.