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Boyfriend’s Gun Gives Norwegian Champion Shot at Olympic Gold

February 1, 1992

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ World champion Nordic skier Grete Ingeborg Nykkelmo ended up borrowing a gun from her boyfriend to get her first shot at an Olympic gold medal.

Nykkelmo, 30, was one of Norway’s best cross-country skiers in the mid- 1980s. But the 1985 world champion in the 20 kilometers never got to race in an Olympics.

Frustrated by illness and poor finishes, Nykkelmo quit in 1989. The next season, Olympic gold medalist Eirik Kvalfoss - her longtime boyfriend - loaned her a rifle and urged Nykkelmo to try his sport: the biathlon.

Nykkelmo became a world champion again, winning the 7.5-kilometer biathlon at last year’s championships in Lahti. Kvalfoss, 32, won the 1991 bronze in the men’s biathlon sprint in the Finnish city, where they met 10 years ago.

″Now that the women’s biathlon has been admitted to the Games, I’ll finally have my chance,″ said Nykkelmo, considered one of Norway’s best hopes for gold in the Albertville Olympics.

The biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and sharpshooting, originates from military winter warfare exercises. It was added to the Olympic program for women for the 1992 Games.

″When I started in 1990, it was as a hobby. I had given up serious sport,″ Nykkelmo said about her second career. ″I never would have started, or won gold, if it hadn’t been for Eirik.″

Kvalfoss, world champion in 1982, 1983 and 1989 and a gold medal winner at the 1984 Olympics, was already a star when he met up-and-coming Nykkelmo at the 1982 Lahti World Championships.

Nykkelmo became ″Eirik’s girl″ in Norwegian newspaper reports. But when she won her first world championship, in Seefeld, Kvalfoss became ″Grete’s boy.″

The couple share an Oslo apartment and train together whenever possible.

″It was a little difficult to start with,″ said Nykkelmo about switching sports. ″In cross-country racing you are used to going a steady pace, not stopping to shoot.″

″It helps to be fast in the tracks,″ she said.

Nykkelmo faces tough challengers for the historic first gold, including teammates Anne Elvebakk and Elin Kristiansen.

″I haven’t thought much about it being the first gold in the event. I’m just focusing on the fact that it’s the Olympics,″ Nykkelmo said. ″Naturally, I’m very glad to be going.″

Nykkelmo made Norway’s 1984 Olympic team as a reserve, but did not race.

A slow start and illness early this season could have spoiled Nykkelmo’s chance of finally competing in an Olympics.

She recovered and won the Norwegian Championships in January. ″I hope my curve will be on the way up towards the Olympics,″ said Nykkelmo.

Even if Nykkelmo adds an Olympic medal to her collection, there is one trophy only Kvalfoss can give her.

″Actually, the rifle I’ll be using still belongs to Eirik,″ she said.

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