The king, the demon and a Swedish Olympic biathlon win
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — As Fredrik Lindstroem cruised to the finish line to secure gold for Sweden in the men’s biathlon relay Friday night, the stadium announcer at the Alpensia Biathlon Center belted out “the king is on fire!”
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf was in the stadium screaming and shouting as the Swedes crossed in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 16.5 seconds — more than 55 seconds ahead of Norway at the Pyongchang Olympics. Germany took bronze.
The victory comes one night after the Swedish women’s team took silver in team relay event with Gustaf also in attendance.
It seems the monarch is a good luck charm for the Swedish biathletes.
“Really good luck,” Sweden coach Wolfgang Pichler said with a wide smile, “really good luck.”
Pichler’s training sessions might have had something to do with it too, of course.
In the summer before Olympic seasons, the man they call the “demon coach” brings the Swedish team to the mountains near his hometown on the Germany-Austria border where he promptly pushes his team to the limits of physical and mental exhaustion in a grueling 12-hour training session.
The biathletes rise at 5 a.m., bike for four hours to Grossglockner — Austria’s highest mountain — and spend 90 minutes going uphill on roller skis. Then they return down the hill for about 120 kilometers (75 miles) on mountain bikes. After that, it’s on to shooting session, where they have to hit a certain amount of targets or be forced to run for an additional hour.
“There are times that they cry,” Pichler said.
But he said the exhausting training is worth it.
“They are at their limit but, psychologically it is the best,” Pichler said. “Always in the Olympic season I want to make pressure on them, so they know what it means to be tired and what it means to have pressure on the shooting range.”
There is another purpose too.
“It brings the team together a little more,” Lindstroem said.
He said that was evident over the last two days in Pyeongchang, when the Swedes willed themselves to great showings in the final two biathlon events.
“We fight together and the last two days here showed that we are a great team,” Lindstroem said.
The Swedes did get some help.
Teammates Peppe Femling, Jesper Nelin and Sebastian Samuelsson put Lindstroem in good position to take home a medal entering the final leg. Still, he trailed heading to the shooting range for the final time.
But things changed dramatically from there as German’s Simon Schempp missed four shots and was forced to do an untimely penalty lap. Norway anchor Emil Hegle Svendsen also struggled on the range, essentially handing the victory to the Swedes.
Lindstroem didn’t even have to exert himself over the last couple of kilometers.
“Those were experienced guys on the last shoot there, and tough ones to beat,” Lindstroem said. “But today I was the calmest one on the range. To have that big lead on the last lap was a nice feeling.”
He said it was extra special to bring home gold in front of King Gustaf.
“That brings something extra to this medal,” Lindstroem said. “What an honor to meet him also.”
For the Germans, it was the seventh time they have reached the podium in this event in the last eight Olympic Games — and Arnd Peiffer said a bronze medal is nothing to be ashamed of.
“We had to fight hard for this medal and it’s never easy in the men’s relay to be on the podium so we can be very satisfied,” Peiffer said. “My best moment was when I saw Simon leaving the range in third position and I knew it was going to be a medal.”
Still, the Germans and Norwegians know they let a gold opportunity get away.
They were tied for the overall lead in Olympic gold medals at 13 entering the race.
Meanwhile, it was a disappointing night for France’s Martin Fourcade, who failed in his quest to win a fourth gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games. It was hardly his fault.
The French were in 12th place and 1:43.5 behind the leader when Fourcade took over on the third leg.
Fourcade said he was obliged to rush his shots in strong wind, rather than wait for the gusts to die down, because France was so far behind the leaders when his turn came. He missed four targets on his final shoot.
“I knew I had to try something. The wind was unfavorable when I arrived at the standing-up shooting. In normal conditions, I would have waited,” he said. “It’s a disappointment.”
Overall, however, “I’m very proud of what I’ve done” at the games, he said.
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