From Rolf Arne Odiin
Chairman, Nordic Ski and Biathlon Commission
ANTERSELVA, Italy, February 13, 2007 - Gold-diggers Linda Grubben and Raphael Poiree are retiring. Ole Einar Bjørndalen and Lars Berger have set their sights on the upcoming FIS Nordic World Ski Championship. Michael Greis heads for the World Cup. And now the biathlon executives are hunting new sponsors following Germany’s success in their World Championship.
After the German ladies’ top relay show, and the men’s double victory by Greis and Andreas Birnbacher catapulted Germany to the top of the championship, biathlon president Anders Besseberg and his board seem very happy to seek new and interesting sponsor agreements within the market of the most powerful biathlon nation of Europe. Due to fantastic competition with great appeal to the television-viewing public, the sport is expected to grow even stronger in the future.
But charismatic athletes like Grubben and Poiree are leaving the train.
"Everyone seems to be thinking of producing new generations,” Ole Einar Bjørndalen lamented, after his 27-year-old compatriot Linda Grubben announced her retirement after a straight flush with gold, silver and bronze in the Anterselva championship.
And he got the answer immediately: "You should think about making something out of your own family,” said Grubben, referring to the fact that 33-year-old Bjørndalen married Italian athlete Nathalie Santer last summer.
When he announced his retirement after claiming the 20km individual race on Sunday, French star Raphael Poiree spoke of his two daughters Emma and Anna and their mother Liv Grete Poiree– seven time world champion- back in Norway. Grete Poiree left the world of biathlon last year, and now with Grubben’s retirement, Norway has lost two golden girls in twelve months.
But Germany seems to have a bright future in the sport with newcomer 20-year-old Magdalena Neuner who snatched three gold medals in her first championship now firmly planted on the international scene - another good reason for the sponsor hunters.
After Michael Greis followed his Olympic success with mass start gold in the last Anterselva event, he shares the World Cup first place with double winner Ole Einar Bjørndalen, both reaching 528 points. And while Greis goes on hunting points in Lahti, Holmenkollen and Khanty Mansiysk, Bjørndalen and team-mate Lars Berger will head to Japan to have a crack at the cross country skiing.
The two fastest runners in the biathlon world will challenge the Nordic skiers in the 15 free technique events taking place in 15 days time in Sapporo, Japan. Both biathletes will just have enough time to acclimatise and overcome the time difference.
Two years ago 27-year-old Berger was 4th in the 15 km and ran in the Norwegian relay team, reaching gold in Oberstdorf. Two months ago Bjørndalen won his first World Cup race by the specialists. There will be a lot of high quality athletes to watch out for on the Japanese tracks in the coming weeks.