Madgalena Forsberg was one of the most successful biathletes in history. She was also one of the most popular: fully one-eighth of the population of her native country, Sweden, used to tune in on television to watch her compete, even though before she won the first of her
six overall World Cup titles biathlon was rarely televised at all. Forsberg achieved all of this despite not taking up biathlon until the age of twenty-seven and retiring, at the height of her success, at age thirty-four.
A Career Change
Forsberg started her athletic career as a cross-country skier. She skied for the Swedish national team for several years, and as part of that country s relay team she won a bronze medal at the 1987 World Cross-Country Skiing Championships. Forsberg missed her chance to compete in cross-country skiing in the 1988 Olympics because of an illness, and when she did compete in 1992 she fared poorly, finishing no higher than twenty-sixth in any individual event. After an injury and subsequent surgery to her Achilles tendon kept her out of the 1994 Olympics, Forsberg gave up competitive cross-country skiing.
Around the same time Forsberg took up biathlon, a sport which combines cross-country skiing and shooting. She already knew how to handle a gun; she had learned the skill from her father, Jan, who used to take Forsberg along when he went hunting for moose when she was a child. Forsberg claims that she was only interested in trying biathlon for fun, not for prizes, but she started competing on the biathlon World Cup circuit in 1994. By the end of her rookie 1994-95 season, Forsberg had finished first in one 7.5 kilometer sprint event and was fifth in the overall World Cup points standings, much to her own amazement. "I had to ask, Who is this person?", she later recalled. "This cannot be me."
The Other Skiing Forsberg
Part of Forsberg's motivation for trying biathlon was her fiancee, Henrik Forsberg, who also began as a cross-country skier and then moved to biathlon. (The two were married in 1996; prior to her marriage to Henrik, Forsberg competed as Magdalena Wallin.) Henrik's sole win in his career came in a thirty kilometer cross-country race in 1991, but Forsberg plays down the difference in their records, attributing it to Henrik's many injuries. Because of that, he hasn t shown what he can do, she explained to CNN/SI before the 1998 Winter Olympics. Henrik missed two world championships, 1989 and 1993, because of illness, he broke his leg in 1996, and in 1997 he had surgery on one arm. Despite all of this missed time, Henrik has collected one second place finish and five third place finishes in World Cup events in his career in addition to his one win. He continues to compete, and finished forty-seventh in the twenty kilometer biathlon at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
World Cup Victories and International Defeats
Forsberg won her first World Cup titles in 1997, when she finished on top of the points standings in the overall and the pursuit categories. Her Swedish fans had strong hopes that she would win a medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but it was not to be. The pressure affected Forsberg's nerves and she shot poorly. The Swedish team finished tenth in the relay, and Forsberg's individual results were fourteenth place in the individual-start event and seventeenth in the sprint. However, Forsberg did well on the World Cup circuit again that year. She successfully defended her title in the pursuit category, and she was the runner-up in two other specialties and in the overall.
|1967||Born July 25 in Oernskdelosvik, Sweden|
|1992||Competes in Olympics in cross-country skiing|
|1994||Has surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon|
|1994||Takes up biathlon|
|1995||Wins first World Cup biathlon event|
|1996||Marries Henrik Forsberg|
|1998||Competes in Olympics in biathlon|
|2002||Wins first Olympic medal, a bronze|
|2002||Retires from competition|
In the next three seasons, Forsberg won a total of eleven World Cup titles, including the Grand Slam the overall, sprint, individual-start, mass-start, and pursuit titles, all in one year in 2000-01. Again, going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Forsberg was favored to medal in several events, and again she faltered under the weight of expectations. She could have won the gold in the fifteen kilometer individual event if she had made at least two her final three shots, but her legs were shaking and she missed twice. Instead, she won the bronze, her first Olympic medal. A few days later Forsberg added another medal to her collection by finishing third in the 7.5 kilometer sprint.
Going Out at the Top
Forsberg, who was thirty-four in Salt Lake City, announced before the Olympics that she would retire at the end of the season that year. She did, but not before sweeping all of the World Cup titles for the second year in a row and winning eight of the twenty-two World Cup races held that season. After clinching her final World Cup, the mass-start, in the last World Cup race she would ever compete in, Forsberg reflected, "You have to stop one day. It was a perfect place to end my career. But I felt sad in the morning and tears came into my eyes when I dressed before the race."
Awards and Accomplishments
|Forty-two career victories in World Cup races.|
|1996||World Cup, overall and pursuit|
|1997||World Cup, pursuit|
|1998, 2000||World championships, pursuit|
|1998-2000||World Cup, overall, sprint, and pursuit|
|1999-2001||Voted most popular athlete in Sweden|
|2001||World championships, mass-start and individual|
|2001||World Cup, overall, mass-start, individual, sprint, and pursuit|
|2002||Bronze medal, Salt Lake City Olympics, 15 km individual and 7.5 km sprint|
Online: www.magdalenaforsberg.com (Swedish only).
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Sketch by Julia Bauder