In Sochi, biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen will compete in his sixth – and probably last – Winter Olympics. While that would tie the current record for participations, it will likely be broken in Sochi by two competitors. Bjørndalen may still break another record: that for most Winter Olympic events started in. He has currently had 21 starts (20 in biathlon, 1 in cross-country skiing) and can break the Olympic record of 25 by competing in all five men’s biathlon events in Sochi. Given his results this season, this is quite likely to happen. Other athletes who competed in Vancouver and have earned 21 starts, Oksana Yatskaya and Ilmārs Bricis are not expected to start in Sochi, although Yatskaya has been active this season.
The current record is held by a not-so-famous athlete, although she became Olympic champion in 2002. Cross country skier Gabriella Paruzzi (Italy) has competed in five Olympic events at five Olympic Games, 1992 through 2006. At each of these Games, she won a medal. She won four bronzes with the Italian relay team, and an individual gold. That came in the 2002 30 km race, although she was only awarded the medal almost two years later, as Larisa Lazutina was finally scratched from the record books due to an out-of-competition doping violation. Paruzzi’s teammate and contemporary, Stefania Belmondo is second on the list of most events started in, with 22. She was more successful than her compatriot though, earning 10 medals including two golds (and a silver behind Paruzzi in the 2002 30 km).
Looking at the top ten of most Winter Olympic starts, it is not a surprise there are a lot of cross-country skiers there. The sport has had a large number of events for many years, allowing competitors with long careers to make many starts. Biathlon, which has grown from three to five events per Olympics, is now allowing the same. Speed skating also has six events, but as we have seen starters in all Olympic speed skating events have become rare in recent years. The top 10 of most Olympic starts is:
|1||Gabriella Paruzzi||ITA||cross country skiing||1992-2006||25|
|2||Stefania Belmondo||ITA||cross country skiing||1988-2002||22|
|3||Oksana Yatskaya||KAZ||cross country skiing||1998-2010||21|
|3||Harri Kirvesniemi||FIN||cross country skiing||1980-1998||21|
|3||Ole Einar Bjørndalen||NOR||biathlon & cross country skiing||1994-2010||21|
|7||Kjetil André Aamodt||NOR||alpine skiing||1992-2006||20|
|7||Kateřina Neumannová||CZE||cross country skiing||1992-2006||20|
|7||Emese Nemeth-Hunyady||HUN&AUT||speed skating||1984-2002||20|
|10||Hiroyuki Imai||JPN||cross country skiing||1992-2002)||19|
|10||Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen||FIN||cross country skiing||1976-1994)||19|
|10||Manuela Di Centa||ITA||cross country skiing||1984-1998)||19|
|10||Sergey Chepikov||URS&EUN&RUS||biathlon & cross country skiing||1988-2006)||19|
It should be pointed out that Kateřina Neumannová also competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics in mountainbiking, realizing an additional, 21st, start. The married couple of Harri and Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi take the pairs title for Winter Olympic starts, with a combined total of 40.
And here is the next-to-last set of USA related sports factsheets, this time for the four Nordic sports of cross-country skiing, biathlon, Nordic combined, and ski jumping. Tomorrow, we’ll finish up the USA sports factsheets with the team sports of curling and ice hockey. Later this week, now that the sports quotas have closed (19 Jan), we will start giving National Factsheets for the competing nations at Sochi.
Back in 2006, The Herald (Glasgow) started an investigation into the 1924 Olympic curling competition. While the British team (all from the RCCC in Perth, Scotland) had won the event and had earned the same medals as other competitors, the event was later frequently listed as a demonstration sport, and it was not included on the IOC website. The IOC resolved this issue in 2006, reconfirming 82 years after the fact that the Scotsmen were in fact Olympic champions. They also resolved another gold medal from Chamonix Games, although this largely went unnoticed.
The 1924 Winter Olympics were, at that time, not officially called Winter Olympics, although many newspapers referred to them that way at the time. They were an experiment, held under supervision of the IOC and staged by the same organization that ran the Summer Olympics in Paris later that year. Only in 1926, with the experiment deemed a success, were these events officially recognized as Olympic. For two sports, however, the winners disappeared from the record books. In both cases, this is likely because they did not return as medal sports in 1928. Curling, for example, only became a medal sport again in 1998, although it was demonstrated in 1932, 1988 and 1992 (and the related German eisstockschießen was demonstrated in 1936 and 1964).
The second sport that fell into oblivion was the military ski patrol. This competition can be considered a forerunner of modern day biathlon, which became Olympic in 1960. It consisted of a four-man team – all of them soldiers – who would ski a 30 km course. Along the way, there were 18 targets set up at 250 m from the course. Three skiers were allowed to take shots; every hit would mean 30 seconds subtracted from the finishing time. A variant of this competition would later also be held in biathlon, called the team event (not to be confused with the relay).
In Chamonix, the Swiss team won the gold medal. The quartet had the fastest time, and hit 8 targets. While the Finnish group managed 11 targets, their time was not fast enough to threaten the Swiss gold. France placed third with a team that featured Camille Mandrillon, taker of the Olympic oath at those Games.
In 1928, the military ski patrol returned to the Olympics, but this time it was marked as a demonstration sport. The Swiss attempted to defend their title, but were bested by Norway and Finland. The 1936 edition was won by the Italians, who narroly defeated Finland, with Sweden in third. The sport’s final appearance came in 1948. The Swiss repeated their 1924 victory, while Finland placed second for the fourth time, Sweden again taking third place. None of these events held medal status, but a more modern version of the sport, biathlon, was held in Squaw Valley and has been part of the Winter Games since.
Olympic History: Biathlon consists of cross-country skiing in which the ski runner stops at intervals to shoot a rifle at a target. Evidence for a skiing and shooting sport exists in cave paintings in Norway from about 2000 B.C.E., depicting hunters on skis while stalking animals for game. The modern sport has a military basis, in which Scandinavian soldiers were trained to ski while carrying rifles and to periodically stop and shoot. Biathlon-type events in Scandinavia were held as early as the 18th century.
The first modern biathlon probably occurred in 1912 when the Norwegian military organized the Forvarsrennet in Oslo, an annual event, which consisted initially of a 17 km. cross-country ski race with two-minute penalties for the shooting part of the competition. A military patrol event was contested at the Olympic Winter Games as a medal sport in 1924, and a demonstration sport in 1928, 1936, and 1948, although it was not precisely the same as the biathlon.
Attempts to introduce a winter multi-event patterned after the modern pentathlon began in 1948, when the Winter Pentathlon was contested at the St. Moritz Olympics as a demonstration sport. It consisted of cross-country and downhill skiing, and also shooting, fencing, and horse riding. The first world championships in biathlon were held in 1958 at Saalfelden, Austria. The sport quickly was placed on the Olympic program, showing up at Squaw Valley in 1960. Women’s biathlon made its Olympic début in 1992 as a full medal sport at Albertville.
Olympic biathlon events have consisted of a single men’s race and a men’s relay until 1980 when a second individual event was contested. The event is scored by time. In the longer individual race a one-minute penalty is assessed for a missed shooting bulls-eye, and a two-minute penalty is assessed for missing a target. In the shorter individual race and the relay, missing a target is penalized by requiring the biathlete to ski a 150 metre penalty loop. For 2002, a new pursuit event of 12 km. for men and 10 km. for women was added to the Olympic program. In 2006, a mass start sprint event for both men and women was added to the biathlon program.
Originally, biathlon was governed by the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon (UIPMB). However, in 1993, biathlon separated from the modern pentathlon and formed the International Biathlon Union (IBU) to govern the sport independently. The IBU currently has 68 affiliated national federations, as of November 2013. All of the nations are also IOC member nations, with the lone exception of Greenland.
The current member nations are as follows: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, US Virgin Islands, and Uzbekistan.