Martin Fourcade regularly gives away his World Cup biathlon medals to fans after races.
But don’t expect France’s star biathlete to give away any bronze, silver or gold hardware that he wins at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
He’s keeping those for himself.
“I love to give medals to the kids,” Fourcade said with a smile at a news conference in January after a World Cup event. “It’s something I usually do. But I will not give [away] my Olympics medals — the ones I have and the ones I hope to win. But for the World Cup it’s more about sharing what we won with the people in the crowd.”
Fourcade, 29, has been the sport’s most dominate competitor since the 2011-12 season, when he won the first of six straight World Cup total score championships. He won two golds and a silver at the Sochi Games in 2014 and remains the No. 1 biathlete in the world.
He already has more medals than any French Olympian in history and, still largely in his prime, has a chance to leave South Korea as one of the most decorated athletes at this year’s Winter Games.
WHAT IS IT? Skis and guns — say what? The biathlon combines the strength and speed of cross-country skiing with the marksmanship of shooting a rifle. Racers ski around a course with .22-caliber small-bore rifles strapped to their back, then stop at various locations and shoot at targets 50 meters away. Athletes are penalized for misses, so the sport requires poise to settle the nerves following the exertion of energy from skiing. Skiers often train for the event without snow.
MEDAL FAVORITES: While Fourcade is the favorite for the men, don’t count out Johannes Boe of Norway, who is second in the World Cup rankings. He is plenty capable of beating Fourcade on a good day. The women’s side is a bit more crowded at the top, with Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen atop the World Cup standings, and Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier and Slovokia’s Anastasia Kuzmina also in the hunt.
AGELESS WONDER LEFT OUT: Like Elvis in music or Richard Petty in auto racing, Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is simply known as The King to those who follow the biathlon. The 44-year-old has won 13 Olympic medals — including eight golds — which is more than any man in Winter Olympics history. However, he failed to qualify for the Pyeongchang Olympics as age appears to be catching up with him. He finished 52nd in a 10-kilometer sprint race at a World Cup event, more than 2 minutes behind Fourcade.
RISING STAR: Belarus’ Darya Domracheva was a star in Sochi, winning three of the four women’s individual events. It marked the first time a female biathlete had earned three gold medals in a single Winter Olympics. She’s not quite at the top of her game, but certainly thrives in pressure situations and can’t be counted out.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Bjoerndalen and Domracheva, by the way, are married, which means the couple can decorate their 1-year-old daughter Xenia’s room with 16 Olympic medals in all. It’s hard to imagine that girl not becoming a biathlete when she grows up.
TOUGH INJURY: Two-time world champion Gabriela Koukalova from Czechoslovakia would have been considered one of the favorites, but a calf problem will keep her out of the Winter Games. That’s a tough break for Koukalova and her country, considering she won two silver medals in Sochi. Koukalova said through the Czech Biathlon Union that she tried her best to return in time for the Olympics, but “unfortunately, I could not train as I had hoped. I’m very disappointed.”
Americans to watch
Lowell Bailey: The Siler City, N.C., native is making his fourth straight Olympic appearance. Bailey, 36, became the first American to win a biathlon world championship, claiming gold in the men’s 20-kilometer race last February in Austria. His eighth-place finish in individual in Sochi was his career best at the games.
Tim Burke: The Paul Smiths, N.Y., native is also appearing in his fourth straight games. Burke, 35, who finished the 2015-16 season as the top American male at No. 15 in the overall World Cup rankings, had a 10th-place finish in December in the men’s 10-kilometer sprint. In 2009, he became the first U.S. biathlete to lead the overall World Cup.
Susan Dunklee: The Newport, Vt., native became the first U.S. woman to win an individual world medal when she took silver in the 12.5-kilometer mass start race at the IBU Biathlon World Championships in Austria in February 2016. Dunklee, 31, placed 12th in Sochi, the best finish ever for an American woman.
Joanne Reid: The Madison, Wis., native is the daughter of 1980 Olympic speedskating bronze medalist Beth (Heiden) Reid and the niece of Eric Heiden, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in speedskating. Reid, 25, was an NCAA champion cross-country skier at Colorado-Boulder before taking up biathlon in 2015. She was the top U.S. finisher in the 7.5-kilometer sprint at the IBU Cup in Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia, placing 20th.