At 40, biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is competing in the Olympic Games for the sixth and final time. The Norwegian has one last sporting goal: to become the most successful winter Olympian in history.
It has been 21 years since Ole Einar Bjoerndalen made his debut in the Biathlon World Cup. Since then, he has won 11 Olympic medals (six gold, four silver and one bronze), 19 World Cup titles and racked up more than 90 World Cup wins. He is the most successful biathlete in the history of the sport. But he is not yet the most successful winter Olympian. That title belongs to compatriot Bjorn Daehlie. The former cross-country skier has twelve Olympic medals - one more than Bjoerndalen.
Equaling or beating Daehlie's record is the last goal of his impressive biathlon career. The motivation comes from within: "I know I can ski fast. But I can probably shoot even faster and better. There is always the possibility to improve," said Bjoerndalen.
He admits competing earlier in his career was easier, but not necessarily better. "In the past there were three, four, five really good biathletes. Now there are 15 to 20 who are constantly at a really high level and therefore it's harder to win races. But that's exactly what motivates me."
A perfectionist and a tightrope walker
Bjoerndalen comes from a family of simple farmers in Drammen, in southeast Norway. He has four siblings, and his two brothers were also professional biathletes. Along with Dag and Hans Anton in the early 1990s, the three made up 'Team Bjoerndalen.' But Ole Einer was and is the most successful, presumably because he is a perfectionist who has even trained as a tightrope walker. As a technically talented skier, he never had problem with the race - it is shooting where his greatest weakness lies. He has spent countless hours working to improve his shooting form, but his fate nonetheless is often decided on the target range.
Because of his insatiable hunger for victory, he was bestowed the nickname 'The Cannibal'. "Every athlete hates to lose. I'm no different," he said. "I will always be fighting to win. There are people you sometimes have to accept are better. But basically I am ambitious and always want to win. Losing is just not nice."
'I don't feel my age'
That remains true even today. At 40, Bjoerndalen is as hungry for victory as always. He does not think about his age. "I think my top performance level is still there. You just have to be as exact with your training as before," added the athlete ahead of his participation in his sixth Olympics. "I don't feel my age. But the other athletes, they have become better. They don't let you make any mistakes. You have to have a perfect race, or else you have no chance to win."
The last few seasons were the most difficult of his career. He injured a intervertebral disk lifting a wooden block. Then news of his breakup with former Italian biathlete Nathalie Santer became public. But now he feels physically and psychologically fit again and wants to concentrate on his greatest challenge as an athlete. His biggest rival in Sochi will be countryman Emil Hegle Svensen and France's Martin Fourcade.
And what comes after his sporting career? "It'll definitely be a little bit quieter, I won't be undertaking so much. [I'll] spend time with the family," he said. However, he will remain in the sport: Bjoerndalen would like to train young athletes and share his years of experience.