The History Making Olympics of Our Greatest Champs

Part 2 of our 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics Wrap Up

Years from now ask any biathlon fan who watched what their first memories of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are and you’ll probably hear one of 3 names: Johannes Thingnes Bø, Quinton Fillon Maillet, or Marte Olsbu Røiseland. Sure you might hear a few people mention Tiril Eckhoff, Elvira Öberg, or even Ingrid Tandrevold. You also might expect to hear a few people mention COVID or the extreme cold/wind. But those first three athletes absolutely dominated the biathlon competitions in Zhangjiakou, China.

Over the course of the last 2 weeks each of Bø, QFM, and Røiseland has won 5 Olympic medals which matches the best ever for any athlete at any single Winter Olympic Games. That puts them on the short list of all time great performances for any sport in the Winter Olympics. There are now 14 individuals who have won 5 medals in a single Winter Olympics meaning a whopping 23% of those instances have been in these Olympics in biathlon. That’s a level of dominance that is almost unheard of.

Looking just at biathlon, there are only 3 biathletes ever to have 5 medals in a single Winter Olympics, and yes, it’s these 3. That means they won more medals this year than Ole Einar Bjorndalen, Martin Fourcade or Ricco Grosse ever won in a single Olympics. In fact Ole Einar Bjorndalen is the only other biathlete with more than 3 medals in a single Olympic Games. I don’t know how else to put it, what they did was absolutely historic.

So how did they do it? Well not surprisingly, they all took different paths to get to their historic 5 medals. We’ll discuss them each independently. I have them in a specific order. Røiseland first because she was the first athlete I thought was going to “own” the Olympics. Then the story became about QFM’s efforts to reach the magical 6 medals. Finally JT Bø snuck up at the end to make an argument that his 5 were the most impressive of all Let’s check them out:

Marte Olsbu Røiseland 🥇🥇🥇🥉🥉: Marte Olsbu Røiseland has spent almost the entire season as the unquestioned top woman on the IBU World Cup. She had two of her worst finishes of the season in the first three races. After that though she’s been on an absolute tear. She’s been in 10 races since she finished 12th place in the 2nd Sprint race in Östersund. In those 10 races she has 6 wins and 2 more podiums. That’s an absurd 80% podium rate. As I said she’s spent much of the season as the unquestioned top woman on the IBU World Cup.

You would expect then that she arrived in China as one of the favorites to win medals. You would be correct. Just looking back at my own preview I had her listed as first or second in every single race. But there was almost equal intrigue and interest in Elvira Öberg and even Tiril Eckhoff. As it turns out though that might have just been wishful thinking searching for someone who might challenge her.

You could tell from the first first moments of the first race that Marte Olsbu Røiseland had come to these Olympics intent on domination. But first let’s back up a moment. She took a bit of an unusual approach in the lead up to these Games. While most of the Norwegian team took the 6th week of the World Cup off for altitude training, Røiseland opted to compete that week and instead do her own altitude training the 7th week in place of the Antholz competitions. There were some questioning this decision to break with the “plan” but even more alluding to her previous successes. She followed a similar structure when she was completely dominant at the 2020 World Championships in Antholz, the venue most closely resembling this one in China due to its similarly high altitude.

Røiseland served as the lead leg for the solidly favored Norwegian Mixed Relay team. It was immediately evident that she knew exactly what she was doing with her training plan. She staked Norway to an early 16 second lead with 9/10 shooting and the fastest course time of her leg by 10 seconds. One important thing to note is that the first leg of most relays is fairly relaxed. You can see this as Røiseland had a fairly impressive negative split from a first lap of 5:09 to a second lap of 4:55. This is important because while she had just the 5th fastest skiing time of the women in the race, 13 seconds behind Herrmann, you could easily see that she was one of the fastest women on the day. Of course a relay is more complex than a single leg, as Røiseland knows well after the Norwegian women finished 4th place in the Women’s Relay, but Marte Røiseland certainly served notice in what became a gold medal winning effort.

The Mixed Relay was just the appetizer. Next up was the 15km Individual competition, the most brutal test of the Olympics. It’s a grind. Røiseland earned her first solo medal of these Games with a bronze medal. She had the 2nd fastest course time behind only Eckhoff. She was the only woman in the top 8 with 2 misses. Just a reminder that a miss in the Individual race counts for a 1 minute penalty. She was just 15 seconds behind Denise Herrmann which puts into perspective how much faster she was than the others at the top of the standings. Of course shooting is a part of the competition and Marte Røiseland as one of the best shooters this season would be one of the first to tell you that. But she was clearly primed for more success.

The next two races were the peak of her 2022 Winter Olympics. In the Sprint race Marte Røiseland had nearly the perfect race. She was perfect 10/10 on the range. She was fastest on the course by 20 seconds. She Elvira Öberg was also perfect 10/10 on the day and was 2nd place by a little over 30 seconds behind Røiseland. That’s just absolute dominance in a Sprint race. Two days later in the Pursuit race she was somehow even better. She was 19/20 and won the Gold by an outstanding 1:36 again over Elvira Öberg. That doesn’t even capture the dominance though. Watching it live she was so far ahead that it never really appeared that anybody would challenge her. She was “only” 7th fastest on the course but that’s because she had such a massive lead that she was able to slow down and celebrate at the end. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind at this point that Marte Røiseland was and is the best woman at these Winter Olympics.

She was able to finish up her Olympics with 1 more medal in the Mass Start. But just because she didn’t medal in the Women’s Relay doesn’t mean she had a bad race. She was the fastest in her leg and you could see her digging to try to make up the time until the very end of the race. Norway ended up 4th, just 13 seconds off the podium. In the Mass Start she just lost out to two women who had very good legs in the end. Justine Braisaz-Bouchet had a tremendous game plan at the end, shooting quickly and sprinting off the range. Tiril Eckhoff just wanted another medal so dang bad. At the end of the day Røiseland.

How did she do it? Well she was Marte Røiseland except better. Throughout this season Røiseland has proven herself to be very fast and one of if not the best shooter on the World Cup. She took that one step further during these Olympics and while still being one of the best shooters, also left her mark as one of, and sometimes the, fastest woman. Hard to beat that!

She finishes up the Olympics with 5 medals. She has more Olympic medals in a single Olympics than any woman ever in biathlon history. This may very well be her last Olympics and if it is she ends her Olympic career with 7 total medals. That puts her 3rd all time in biathlon and just 1 medal behind Tiril Eckhoff as the most decorated Norwegian Olympic biathletes of all time.

Quinton Fillon Maillet 🥇🥇🥈🥈🥈: For much of these Olympics QFM was the main story in biathlon. Up until the last event he had medaled in every single race and going into the Mass Start he had an opportunity to set the all time record for most medals by an athlete in a single Winter Olympics. On the way he set the record for France for most medals in a single Olympics. And almost more notably he broke Martin Fourcade’s record for the most medals in a single Olympics by a French biathlete.

He entered last season as the French favorite but it took him until the end of last season to start to get the results that he would have expected. Over the course of this season though he has been establishing himself not only as the new face of French biathlon but as one of the premier biathletes on the world stage. He of course currently leads the overall crystal globe race and is in contention nearly ever race he steps to the starting line. For anybody who doesn’t follow biathlon as closely, the Olympics are the moment to pay attention, and over the last two weeks he showed that he can perform on the grandest of stages.

Like Marte Røiseland, QFM’s Olympics started with the Mixed Relay. Both QFM and JT Bø were the anchor legs for their respective squads and were involved in one of the most wild Olympic endings I can remember. Quinton Fillon Maillet took over from Jacquelin with France in the 3rd position just 18 seconds of Latypov and the ROC squad. That’s prime position for a hunter like QFM who has won all but 1 Pursuit race this year. He had 1 miss in his first shooting and was clean in the second shooting which helped him close the gap up on Latypov. By that last lap of the anchor leg and and JT Bø had joined Latypov and the medals would be decided by those three. It came down to the final sprint to the finish which JT Bø ultimately won for Norway. However if you rewatch as they came to the final curve QFM made one fatal misstep and which briefly put him on the back foot. If he hadn’t done that in all likelihood France celebrates the gold medal. Regardless it was a tremendous way for him to start off these Olympics!

The next race was, in my opinion, Quinton Fillon Maillet’s crowning achievement of these Olympics. The 20km Individual race is a punishing race and the set up with 1 minute penalties for misses and such long ski legs can really lead to some interesting final podiums. However this race ended up with a terrific podium. QFM finished the race with 2 misses which is 90% shooting. That’s a good day by itself. However it was his ski speed that just blew away everybody. He was the fastest man over the 20km course besting JT Bø by 20 seconds. Over the last 3 laps he was 26 seconds faster than Bø which is just really strong skiing at the end of such a huge race. It appeared that QFM was out to prove his dominance and wanted some revenge on JT Bø for sprinting past him in the Mixed Relay for Gold. On this day, QFM was the man.

The next two races, while maybe not as impressive, were classic QFM for this past season. He was very very good in the Sprint race. However on that particular day nobody was going to beat JT Bø. Just as QFM wanted “revenge” on JT Bø for the Mixed Relay, JT Bø was intent on showing he was the fastest man in the Sprint. Both were 9/10 but QFM finished 26.9 seconds back. Why was this classic QFM? Because it was a very good Sprint finish that served as the perfect platform for him in the Pursuit.

In Pursuit races this year he has won every single race except for the first Pursuit of the year. Well no change in this race. He was 41 seconds back at the first shooting, 12 seconds back after the 2nd shooting, then took the lead after the 3rd shooting and never looked back. Just a perfectly classic QFM race. It was an absolutely solid race. His fastest lap was the 4th lap but it was just 7th fastest of all competitors but when you go 20/20 in biathlon you’re going to do really well. At this stage of the Games, with 4 medals in 4 races QFM was starting to make serious news. They even commented on him on the nightly NBC broadcast which is almost unheard of for biathlon!

The last two races were “less successful” for Quinton Fillon Maillet with just one silver for the two. However it wasn’t because he had bad races at all. The Men’s 4×7.5km Relay was one of the wild affairs of these Olympics, much like the Mixed Relay was. QFM was again the anchor leg for France. This time France was in the 2nd position and 41 seconds back of Latypov and ROC who were in a commanding lead. After the first lap and shooting QFM’s deficit on Latypov was 1:02. Latypov came to the range for the last shooting still with a large lead. Latypov had a very nervy shooting with 4 misses and 2 penalty loops. QFM himself had 2 misses but he got the targets down and avoided the penalty loop. Christiansen had too big of a lead by that time but QFM was able to bring France home with a solid silver medal. His teammates mobbed him at the finish and all looked very happy with the result.

The Mass Start was the only race in which QFM did not medal. He came to the range for the last shooting absolutely in position for a medal. JT Bø had just finished shooting and skied away for the penalty loop. At that point it is unclear how much QFM knew but he clearly knew Bø did not shoot cleanly. Quinton Fillon Maillet wants to win so he shot to win. He shot fast and unfortunately he missed his first 3 shots. It was a gold medal winning strategy rather than prioritizing being safe and trying to “just” win a bronze. QFM has a winners mentality and he went for it. I do not blame him in the least. He was true to himself.

So how did he do it? Well he was QFM. A very good shooter, fast even if not the fastest on the skis, and above all a competitor. It’s one things I’ve come back to time and time again this season with Quinton Fillon Maillet, that he rises to the occasion in head to head competitions. It’s what makes him so hard to beat in the Pursuit races. He loves hunting down the lead. It’s part of what made his final shooting in the Mass Start both so surprising and yet understandable at the same time. He wasn’t going to settle for any medal, he was going to go for gold even against the odds. It didn’t work for him this time but you know he would do it the same way if he could do it again.

At the end of the day he returns home to France with 5 medals. As I said at the top its the best single Olympics for any French biathlete. Those account for each of his 5 Olympic medals. He’s just 2 medals back of Martin Fourcade. He is 29, and will of course be 33 for the 2026 Olympics, but he still does have an outside shot of at least tying Fourcade’s French record.

Johannes Thingnes Bø🥇🥇🥇🥇🥉: And that brings us to who I consider to have been the “man” at these Olympics. He was a bit out of the direct spotlight as Quinton Fillon Maillet grabbed the early headlines, he leaves China with 4 gold medals and a bronze. That last gold medal helped him match QFM and Marte Røiseland with 5 total medals but he led the pack with the most gold medals.

JT Bø has been a much analyzed and critiqued athlete this season. Coming off of 3 straight crystal globes he was of course one of the favorites to contend for the globe again this season. Early on though it was pretty clear that something was different with Bø this year. Was his training off? Was he aiming for a peak for the Olympics? Or was it that he was just on the downside of his career and he was losing his super power. Only time would tell.

Over the course of the first 4 weeks of competition he showed flashes of the classic JT Bø. Coming out of the holiday break though Bø has his worst weekend in several years. He was shooting all over the place and his ski speed still wasn’t good. There was much speculation at the time that he was pushing too much with the upcoming Olympics. After that weekend he took off, not to the Italian alps for training with the rest of the Norwegians but home to rest, reset, and recharge with his family. Whatever happened during that week seems to be exactly what he needed. He went back to Antholz and showed signs that he was much closer to his old self than he had been at any previous point in the Olympics. At that point he suddenly was very much on the front of everybody’s mind coming to China.

JT Bø started out the Olympics with an absolute bang. We’ve already discussed the Mixed Relay several times but let’s look at it from JT Bø’s perspective. He took over from his brother with Norway in 5th place and 21 seconds back. After the first shooting he had two misses and had actually fallen a little further back to nearly 25 seconds. We saw him turn on the jets and start to eat into that lead during lap 2. This is when we also started to realize that his speed was back. Leaving the 2nd shooting, after another miss, he was just about 9 seconds back. He made up the ground to Latypov and QFM with ease. He seemed to settle into the idea that it would be a final sprint to the finish. Even with JT Bø’s amazing speed, he’s actually not that great in a straight line drag race. This time though, unlike QFM he chose the right line, and blew past QFM and Latypov to bring the gold medal home for Norway. While a relay is team effort, if you’re going to credit one individual with a supreme effort to win the gold, in this relay it was JT Bø.

The Individual race was, while certainly not a set back by any means, a bit of an eye opener. He said afterwards that his goal coming to the Olympics was to get a medal in a solo race. However I think even he would admit that he was taken aback by the manner in which QFM beat him in the Individual. He just isn’t accustomed to being beaten on the course. Both QFM and JT Bø had 2 misses and Bø lost 26 seconds to him over the last 3 laps. That just doesn’t happen to a peak of powers JT Bø. It could be speculated that Bø went too hard on the early laps, or he was trying to slow himself a touch to help improve his accuracy and avoid costly 1 minute penalties. It was only bronze instead of silver because Anton Smolski had a terrific race, sliding in to the 2nd spot 16 seconds ahead of Bø with clean 20/20 shooting on the day. Either way, it was still a successful race as he came away with his second medal in two races.

Bø was out for redemption in the Sprint race. Seemingly spurred on by QFM being faster in the Individual race, Bø was absolutely flying from the starting gate in the Sprint race. He gained 12 seconds on QFM in the first lap, shot clean, and then gained another 17 seconds in the first lap. With just 1 miss for Bø and no clean shooting from the other major contenders the race was all but over at that point. JT Bø came home with the win and his first solo gold at these Olympics.

The Pursuit race though was the most disappointing of the fortnight. He started out the race with a 25 second advantage. He was able to maintain this through to the third shooting even with 2 misses prone. This is where he got a little unlucky. He caught the wind at the wrong time, along with some poor shooting, and had 3 misses. From here he fell behind and was having to chase back time on QFM who had no intention of giving it back. 2 more misses in the last shooting for 7 misses in total for the day and JT Bø finished a disappointing 5th and over 2 minutes back.

The last two races were the culmination of everything that makes JT Bø great. Relays are always a team effort, especially relays that win gold medals. It is undoubtable that Vetle Sjaastad Christriansen had an incredible performance in the Men’s 4×7.5km relay including what was a truly phenomenal 5/5 shooting in the last standing that vaulted Norway into the gold medal position. However none of that would have bene possible without JT Bø’s third leg. When Bø started Norway was 1:47 back from the lead. When he passed off to Christiansen that deficit on the ROC had shrunk to just 43 seconds. Bø was of course the fastest man of his leg, besting Ponsiluoma the 2nd fastest of leg 3 by over 35 seconds. He was 41 seconds than Doll who was the 3rd fastest man of the leg. He also had a perfect standing shoot that made an enormous difference in race. I won’t argue that JT Bø was the reason they won the relay, but they don’t win it without him. The same can be said for Christiansen. It took two unbelievable performances for Norway to win and they got them (with some help).

The Mass Start was actually the perfect encapsulation of JT Bø’s essence as a biathlete. It’s not because he won gold. And its not because he won gold by being fastest. It was the manner in which he approached the race. The first lap of a Mass Start is usually a little relaxed, and while Bø didn’t build a lead, he did go to the front a push the pace for just a little bit to start the lactic acid build up in the legs of his competitors. After a miss in the first shooting he was able to make up the 16 second deficit with relative ease. Then after a clean 2nd shoot he went to work. With Nawrath bravely trying to stick with him Bø stretched the lead on the rest of the field to 20 seconds.

After a miss by Bø brought things together again, he put down the hammer on lap 4. He exited the penalty loop with Ponsiluoma just 6 seconds back. By the first split it was a 21 second lead. By the next shooting it was 27 seconds. That is how JT Bø does it. One second he’s there and the next he’s gone. He ended up with 2 more misses in the last shooting but nobody could take advantage. Also by shooting in just 23 seconds he had nearly the fastest final shoot. He left the loop for the last time with a 17 second lead. In the blink of an eye it was over 30 seconds. He was gone. Another gold medal.

Why was JT Bø so successful these Olympics? He found his secret stuff again. He was really fast and really fast at the right times. He shot fast on the range and hit the shots that mattered most. Why was the Mass Start the perfect JT Bø race? He was fast but he was fast at just the right moment to hurt his opponents. Elvira Öberg is still learning that skill. She is what I would call indiscriminantly fast. Just fast all the time. Once she learns this skill with slightly better shooting she could make the next gigantic leap to greatness. But for right now it is still JT Bøs weapon to wield. And in the 2022 Olympic Mass Start he did it with perfection.

Johannes Thingnes Bø, while only having 3 crystal globes thanks to the prolonged dominance of Martin Fourcade, has made his own mark on biathlon history in the Olympics. With 8 medals he is now behind only Ole Einar Bjørendalen for most Olympic medals by a biathlete. At just 28 he likely has another Winter Olympics in which he can be competitive still to come. He’s not likely to reach 13 overall medals but he can establish himself firmly as the 2nd most of all time.

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