On Sunday, the Biathlon Association will in all probability announce what most people already know: Filip Fjeld Andersen and Sivert Bakken will get the last two places in the men’s Olympic squad.
As the duo are the only ones in addition to the four pre-selected who will go to this weekend’s World Cup race in Oberhof, the last race before the selection, national team manager Per Arne Botnan goes a long way in suggesting that the two talents will go to Beijing.
Thus, a lifelong dream comes true for both Bakken and Fjeld Andersen, who have had their international breakthrough this season.
– It would have been incredibly fun to go to the Olympics, says Fjeld Andersen, who emphasizes that he has still not been taken out.
Four sure stars
But when he officially becomes part of Norway’s Olympic squad over the weekend, it does not mean that he will be allowed to participate in the games. Both Fjeld Andersen and Bakken go to China as reserves.
Only four Norwegians are allowed to start at the different distances during the games. And with Johannes Thingnes Bø, Tarjei Bø, Sturla Holm Lægreid and Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen on the team, the two reserves understand well that they will be just that.
– To have a race looks difficult considering that we have four very strong athletes, but just being able to participate would be incredibly cool and given a lot of learning, says Fjeld Andersen.
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– There are four pieces that are quite clear, so I have to go pretty well now in Oberhof and in Anterselva if it is to be possible to participate in something. But first and foremost, it would have been cool to be part of the squad, so we have to take it from there, says Bakken, who has several top places in the World Cup this season.
Must keep the mood up
National team manager Botnan does not think it will create any unrest in the squad.
– The prerequisites are very clear in advance. This is how the situation is, and the guys have realized that too, he says.
But even though they are not going to run any races in the first place, the national team management demands that they stay as sharp as the other four.
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– They should be top prepped in the same way as the others. They should follow the same cycle with training, test races and competitions. They must be maximally prepared at all times. Suddenly someone gets sick, says Botnan, and adds:
– In addition, they will help to keep the mood up and create a good environment. They should also contribute their qualities to training throughout the period, so they have an important task as reserves. They must be aware of those tasks.
Felt like a tourist
Eight years ago, Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen (29), who is now a banker on the Norwegian team, had the same tasks during the Olympics. Then he went to Sochi as a reserve, and was not allowed to run a single race.
– There was a lot of billiards, a lot of Asian food. There was a 24-hour restaurant there, and I was a lot in the Asian part. It was nice, but a bit boring too. It is more tempting to compete this time, says Sjåstad Christiansen, who never felt that he was in an Olympics.
– I felt like a tourist, I did. We are quite far away from where it happened then as well. We were not at the opening ceremony either, because it was three hours transport. I kind of got little sense of the Olympic spirit. It was a bit mixed feelings, he says.
– What kind of advice do you give to Bakken and Fjeld Andersen, who will now be reserves?
– They should have a lot to do outside of training. At least one hobby. Now we all play a bit of Football Manager, and then I started drawing a bit. I get to give some drawing advice to Sivert and Filip. They will probably get through the Olympics with a little coloring, he smiles.
The two reserves themselves see an Olympic trip as a unique opportunity. Not only do they get to experience what it is like to participate in the Olympics, but they also get the chance to train in the heights of the Chinese mountains.
They can simply come from the Olympics with a top form, as Henrik L’Abée-Lund did four years ago. Then he won his first World Cup victory in Holmenkollen right after the Olympics in Pyeongchang.
– As long as the plan is good and you keep yourself going, it can be a great opportunity, says Fjeld Andersen, who finished third in the sprint in Le Grand-Bornand just before Christmas.
– But can you call yourself an Olympian, if you do not participate in any races?
– No, I do not want to say that I can, says Fjeld Andersen and chuckles.