Sochi 2014 Look-Back: Witnessing History

The view from the stands of the Laura Biathlon Stadium.
The view from the stands of the Laura Biathlon Stadium.

Each day during the Sochi Paralympics, I’ll look back at some of my favorite moments from my Olympic experience working for NBC as a Production Associate. 

Biathlon is one of those Winter Olympic sports that intrigued me ever since the first time I saw it on television during the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. An athlete cross-country skis his or her butt off and then tries to shoot into a target the size of a golf ball as his or her heart is racing. It’s a sport we rarely get to see outside of the Olympics.

Being based in the mountains, biathlon was definitely something I wanted to try and see in person. I made several attempts to get up to the Laura cross country & biathlon venue. The first time was nothing more than a wandering excursion to get the lay of the land. A cross country event was going on at the time so the biathlon venue was actually empty. But at least I knew where it was.

My second time getting up there, I ran into a foggy situation, literally. Clouds rolled in making visibility extremely poor, postponing the men’s 15 km mass start event several times.

The foggy finish line at the Laura Biathlon Center.
The foggy finish line at the Laura Biathlon Center.
The bright lights were the only thing you could see.
The bright lights were the only thing you could see.

I ended up missing the men’s 15 km mass start when it got rescheduled, which was a shame because it was an unbelievable ending. But I got another chance on my third try. The weather this time was beautiful. Clear skies and I pretty view of the sun setting behind the mountains on my gondola ride up there.

The sun setting behind the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana.
The sun setting behind the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana.

With biathlon events scheduled for six o’clock in the evening, the stage was set for drama under the lights. Night skiing creates a different atmosphere than events that take place in the morning or afternoon. The event I witnessed was historic in itself since it had never been contested at the Olympics before — the Mixed Relay. Two women each ski 6 km legs and then two men each ski 7.5 km legs. Four legs total, and each athlete takes to the shooting range twice.

The race begins with a mass start and the United States was actually in it for a leg and a half until the shooting range did the team in. Eventually, it came down to Norway and the Czech Republic in the third leg when the men took the course, including Norway’s Ole Einar Bjorndalen. He’s become a household name when it comes to biathlon. I remember hearing Al Trautwig screaming his name during the Salt Lake City games, when he dominated by winning gold in every single event.

On this night, Bjorndalen was in position to win his 13th Olympic medal. The 40-year-old was quick on the shooting range, never missing a beat or a target. His perfect shooting built a huge lead for Norway heading into the final leg, when his teammate E.H. Svendsen anchored Norway to victory.

With the gold, Bjorndalen became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history, becoming the Michael Phelps of the Winter Olympics. Considering how much history happens every day at the Olympics, this one was neat to see.

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