Athletes from this region already participated in the 1936 Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After the war, distinguished winter sports athletes and officials came to Ruhpolding and strengthened its reputation as a winter sports region. Inspired by the famous athletes of the time, the Ruhpolding ski-club leaders, Theo Merkel and Toni Plenk, searched for attractive Nordic sports events and fostered a regular exchange with the members of international and national sport organizations as well as with political representatives. The first up-and-coming talents from the ambitious Ruhpolding Ski Club were gaining exposure to Biathlon during the course of their training with either the German army or the customs office.
At this time however, biathlon was still a sport waiting on the side-lines. In the early seventies, Ruhpolding’s mayor, Franz Schneider, and the other officials made a path-breaking decision despite difficult conditions: they led a planning committee to build a Nordic Competitive Center of Excellence at the foot of the Zirmberg in Ruhpolding. As it turned out, this was a decision with far reaching consequences. Ruhpolding’s appointment as the Bavarian Biathlon Center of Excellence in 1978, set the course for successfully hosting the first Biathlon World Championships in 1979.
The successful execution of the World Championships met the high expectations many stakeholders had for this emerging sport. This in turn influenced many new talents such as Peter Angerer, Herbert Fritzenwenger, Fritz Fischer, Ernst Reiter and Walter Pichler in their athletic development. Above and beyond this, the new World Cup series grew rapidly due to new competition disciplines and biathlon became more popular and media friendly.
THEO MERKEL (* 16.04.1934, † 25.12.2002)
Theo Merkel was one of the German Biathlon pioneers. He began his career as a cross-country skier and switched to biathlon in 1961. He started in the World Championships in Altenberg in 1967 and in Östersund in 1970. He also took part in the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble as a member of the customs team (placing 12th in the individual) as well as the Sapporo Games in 1972. After his active career, he worked as a Chiemgau youth coach and as biathlon range director during World Cups and Championships in Ruhpolding. His commitment was essential to establishing the Chiemgau Arena as a biathlon sports stronghold.
Military patrol runs were already known and established in the Prussian, Bavarian and Italian Military Mountain Troops in the 1920s and 30s. These were entertainment demonstrations during the 1928, 1936 and 1948 Winter Olympic Games and the sport gained popularity in the military sports associations. Over time these demonstrations developed into contests with which troops could measure their own performance ability and showcase it to the public. After the war, in 1949 the responsible bodies of the International Olympic Committee and the International Combined Athletics Union discussed various models of combined competition forms in winter sports. The Swedish model, a combination of cross country skiing and shooting, ultimately gained approval and was given the name “biathlon” upon recommendation from the president, Sven Thofelt.
Thus began, albeit hesitantly at first, the civilian development of the sport of biathlon though it remained in the shadows until the end of the sixties. Gaining recognition as a sports discipline by the International Multidisciplinary Sport Federation, paved the way for the first official World Championships, which took place in 1958 in Saalfelden, Austria. Biathlon’s Snow-White sleep lasted until 1972 because up until that point, the sport was practiced almost exclusively by members of the army, customs, and border patrol units. With the transition from large to small caliber rifles in 1978, the biathlon was able to develop into a popular sport.
In spite of a noticeable upswing following the 1966 Biathlon World Championships in Garmisch, international championships were not conducted there again until the winter of 1969, when Ruhpolding’s biathlon pioneer Theo Merkel won, thereby proving his ability compared to the competition from Eastern Germany. These races took place under very basic outdoor conditions. The athletes themselves groomed the tracks in the deep, soft snow and large-caliber carbines were used to shoot at balloons blown up into cardboard packaging.
1962 was the year in which biathlon took off in Germany and the German Ski Federation set up its first team. The first Biathlon-World Championships in Germany took place in 1966, in the Olympic Games hosting towns of Garmisch Partenkirchen and Kaltenbrunn and were a significant success which was reflected in the press. After this success in Garmisch, the German ski scene started to pay attention. As Michael Pössinger put it, the “ski-hunters” had finally become socially acceptable. They were no longer simply participants as at the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. Most clubs were still holding back their support; the military origin of the discipline was too uncomfortable so soon after the war. In the following years, however, Fritz Wagnerberger, Josef Wengermayr and Hannes Kirchgessner managed to generate more support for the young sport in the German Ski Federation. Upon their initiative, the planning and approval process was initiated and driven along quickly for the Nordic training and support center by the Zirmberg in Ruhpolding. Construction began in 1976.
The success of these efforts did not take long to grow. Only a few years later, thanks to the support of the Bad Reichenhall Hunters at the biathlon facility Wildenmoos near Inzell and later the training center in Ruhpolding, a new era was introduced in sports on skis. Through the experienced leadership team including Peter Bayer, Jürgen Seifert and Norbert Baier, the German Ski Federation was able to groom the local up and coming talents within a few years. Thanks to Peter Angerer and Fritz Fischer along with other emerging junior athletes and due to the excellent training conditions, the first international victories were won and made Ruhpolding known around the world.
In the early eighties, the promotion of young talent in the region brought forth two exceptional athletes: Peter Angerer and Fritz Fischer. Their skills, along with excellent event management, contributed to Ruhpolding becoming a traditional location for holding the Biathlon World Cups to this day. Like so many other Nordic sports rookies, they came from the army funded elite sport program and their successes were a crucial aspect of biathlon becoming an attractive competitive discipline. Both athletes shaped biathlon in Germany during its crucial developmental phase. The two new-comers fascinated spectators with their accomplishments for over ten years; this led to a veritable biathlon-euphoria in Germany. For years they were a dual success-story and the dramatics of their competitive achievements led to medals and top rankings not only in Ruhpolding, but also at World Championships and Winter Olympic Games including Lake Placid in 1980, Sarajevo in 1984 and Calgary in 1988. In addition, both won biathlon’s most desirable annual trophy, the Overall World Cup. Their successes were no accident. Preparing in those days involved skiing over 6,000 – 7,000 kilometers each season and shooting around 10,000 practice shots. Their obvious love of the sport and fun while training out-shone all the hard work. They were always whole-heartedly involved and inspired athletes such as Pichler and Fritzenwenger to strive for maximum achievement. The manner in which they won the relay races was, and remains, one of the highlights in the history of biathlon.
FRITZ FISCHER (* 1956)
Fritz Fischer’s biathlon history is an incredible story. He was born in Kehlheim and at 18 was discovered by coincidence while participating in a long distance run during his army service. He was then introduced to biathlon during his military training. As a member of the German National Biathlon Team from 1980 to 1993, he won a gold medal in the relay race in 1992 at the Olympic Games in Albertville. Fischer won the prestigious Overall World Cup in 1988. After his active career, he was the trainer for the German National Men’s Team for several years and substantially contributed to their achievements. Currently, he runs the “Fritz Fischer Biathlon Camp” in Ruhpolding, through which he successfully scouts for new talent.
In the years after the 1979 World Championships, many new Nordic ski sports innovations were developed and tested by national and international ski clubs. In particular, the switch to a new skiing technique brought surprise and upheaval to the ranks of the biathletes and officials. Up until this point, the diagonal step, the pendulum step, and double-poling were the dominating elements of cross-country skiing. These were now enhanced by the Siitonen or Finnstep technique where a one-sided or alternating fishbone step markedly increases the efficiency and thereby leading to a significantly higher speed. Therewith the classic cross country ski technique was about to be replaced by the skating technique, even though it was not yet officially approved by the technical committee. To the amazement of many experts, in 1985 a young athlete from Oberhof, the 21 year old Frank-Peter Roetsch, raced to the forefront using the new skating technique with a previously unheard of dominance which left the rest of the competitors hopelessly behind. But already in the 1985 World Championships in Ruhpolding, the majority of the racers stormed along the tracks using the new technique. This new and dynamic skiing method was introduced for the first time only a few years later to the 1995/96 World Championships along with new competition formats and pursuit races and mass start. These races now presented extremely different challenges and brought a new element of suspense to the sport of biathlon which, along with improved television presentation and broadcasting fascinated both athletes and spectators.
PETER ANGERER (* 1959)
Like so many other top winter athletes, Peter Angerer from Hammer near Siegsdorf, began his athletic career in 1978 as a soldier with the Reichenhall division. His exceptional talent was quickly discovered and he was promoted by his youth coach Theo Merkel and National trainer Jürgen Seifert. He first gained attention in March, 1979 when he became the Junior World Champion in the Sprint. In the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo, he became the first Olympic winner from the center of excellence in Ruhpolding by winning a gold medal over 20 km, and a silver medal in the sprint. Previously, in 1983, he was the first West German athlete to win the Overall Biathlon World Cup and he subsequently won a silver medal in the relay in 1986 in Calgary.
The construction of the biathlon center of excellence in 1977/78 was one of the most important decisions made by the city of Ruhpolding. From the very beginning, great attention was paid to planning and laying the ski tracks so that they fit into the landscape and joined seamlessly with the shooting range and the technical building. To achieve this, the building was integrated into the northern earth wall of the ski jump landing area so that it lies close to the edge of the slope and provides an almost ideal view of the ski jump facility and the shooting range in front of it, as well as the start- and finish areas which previously did not provide a view of happenings at the shooting range. Formerly, there had been only a view from a provisional platform. With the future in mind, the main building was equipped to the highest standards of the seventies and eighties with media, first aid and medical facilities, as well as wax rooms, locker rooms, a commentator’s booth and organizing committee offices. However, by 1996 when the World Championships were again held in Ruhpolding, the facility no longer met the current standards for televised broadcasting in terms of course layout, and the need to determine and present the shooting results as well as the technical measures necessary for modern live television transmission. The ensuing renovation of the core area of the stadium including the main building, spectator stands, the start- and finish line areas, and shooting range, brought these up to the newest standards still valid today. At that time, the range was expanded from 14 to 30 shooting lanes and was equipped with the most modern electronic integrated targets. Its 50 meter length is framed by high earth walls into which additional important technical rooms were integrated.
Since 2006, the track has held the IBU A-License accreditation as well as fulfilled the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) standardized requirements for World Cups and World Championships, making the Ruhpolding Arena one of the most modern in the world.
With the construction of the new Chiemgau Arena and hosting the Biathlon-World Championships in 2012, Ruhpolding not only strove to present a state-of-the-art facility, but also proved its leading position in the biathlon scene. The municipality was able to secure the architect Martin Renn from Fischen in the Allgäu region, for the renovations. Mr. Renn had already made a name for himself in sports infrastructure design with his design of the ski jump arena in Oberstdorf. A central element of the new facility is the main building with its dynamically curved roof covering the open air terrace shaped in the image of a ski shovel. With the stands located directly across from the shooting range, the Chiemgau Arena allows the visitors the greatest possible proximity to the competition and generates an electrifying, sensational yet intimate atmosphere known as the “witch’s cauldron,” like no other stadium in the world.
TOBIAS ANGERER (* 1977)
Tobias Angerer was born in Traunstein into a sports enthusiastic family and was a soldier-athlete starting for the Vachendorf Sports Club. From 2001 to 2007 he was one of the world’s best cross-country skiers. After his successful graduation from the CJD Christophorus School (the “Elite School of Sports”) in Berchtesgaden he was a member of the Berchtesgaden division of the German Army athletic promotion support group. His big breakthrough came during the 2001/02 season when he won first place in Kuopio for the 10 km freestyle. His good scores landed him on the 2002 Olympic team in Salt Lake City, where he was on the relay race bronze medal winning team along with Jens Filbrich, Andreas Schlütter and Rene Sommerfeldt. He won his first World Cup gold in the pursuit in 2004. The following season, Tobias Angerer was able to establish his position as a world-class athlete by winning the Overall World Cup in 2005/06 and 2006/07 and the Tour de Ski. By winning four Olympic medals (2 x Silver, 2 x Bronze) as well as seven medals in the Nordic Ski World Championships (4 x Silver, 3 x Bronze) Tobias Angerer belongs among the most successful and timeless cross country skiers of his time.
The main grandstands of the Chiemgau Arena accommodate up to 15,000 spectators during the Biathlon World Cup. An additional 15,000 spectators can follow the critical moments both at the shooting range and the gripping race scenes along the tracks on many video screens. During the races, the area behind the main building serves as a TV compound and media area. The Chiemgau Arena facilities, including areas for the athletes, organizing committee offices, the booth and the medical laboratory for doping-controls, meet the highest international expectations and standards. For year-around training opportunities, the Chiemgau Arena is equipped with a 6 km long asphalted roller-ski track. From November onwards, the training and competition ski tracks can be groomed with snow by a modern snow-making system which produces artificially created snow and also allows for snow-farming, the preservation of snow during the off-season. This provides an excellent beginning to the winter season by ensuring the best possible training conditions.
EVI SACHENBACHER-STEHLE (* 1980)
Born in 1980 in Traunstein, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle grew up in the cross-country ski village of Reit im Winkl and started for her home club WSV, before she began her athletic career with the Bischofswiesen military athletic promotion group and participated in her first World Cup cross country ski race at age 18 in 1998. The first highlight of her young career was her relay race gold medal win in the 2002 Olympic winter games in Salt Lake City. In addition to another Olympic gold medal in the team sprint in Vancouver in 2010, Evi Sachenbacher won a silver medal in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, in 2006 in Turin and 2010 in Vancouver. In the Nordic Ski-
World Championships she won 1 gold, 4 silver and 1 Bronze medals. In 2012 she announced her switch from cross-country skiing to biathlon, and quickly qualified to compete in the Biathlon-World Cup. By March 2013, she could celebrate her first World Cup gold medal in the relay race.
With its multitude of national team athletes from the four Olympic sport disciplines cross country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined and biathlon, the Chiemgau Arena developed into one of the most significant performance centers for the German Ski Federation. The Performance and Training Center with its outstanding infrastructure hosts many competitions and sports events throughout the year, the majority of which have a long tradition and can count on the support of seasoned helpers. The annual Biathlon World Cups and the Nordic combined as well as the summer biathlon competitions ensure a full calendar of events for this busy training and competition center.
Whether it’s the German Biathlon Cup, Mini-Ski Jump Competition, Bavarian School Children’s Cup, German Ski Jumpers Cup or the Cross Country competitions for various age groups, there are always school children and youths from Ruhpolding’s junior teams among the winners. It is for good reason that the Ruhpolding Ski Club received the “Green Ribbon” distinction for long-term and consistent youth training from German Olympic Sports Federation and sets an example for the many other associations in the region.
Building the Biathlon Center of Excellence in 1977/78 as well as holding the Biathlon-World Championships in 1979 was were some of the most important fundamental decisions taken by the municipality of Ruhpolding. But not even the biggest optimists could anticipate how quickly biathlon would develop during the four World Championships events held in Ruhpolding between 1979 and 2012. During the first World Championships, the much of the event in the new stadium was largely improvised aside from the impressive opening ceremony in the ice skating arena. Race organizers and officials, media athletes and track wards were storming the new main building from the first day.
Small groups of spectators surrounded the tight start and finish areas and the athletes waiting in the ski-jump landing area. Visitors could only view a few hundred meters of the track itself, and those who wanted to follow the actual race, constantly had to run between shooting range and the scoreboard at the finish line. In addition, aside from the individual, sprint and relay race, there were no other disciplines that could be transmitted via the media. The fact that the teams from the USSR and East Germany dominated the races contributed to limited spectator enthusiasm. This only changed with the 1985 Biathlon-World Championships. With the medals won by Peter
Angerer in the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo as well as the bronze medal win by the German relay team the popularity of the sport rose in Germany. Even if the facilities remained largely the same, the spectator numbers increased rapidly with the top native athletes such as Angerer, Fischer and others. Over 30,000 spectators came to the Ruhpolding Biathlon stadium at the foot of the Zirmberg and cheered on the athletes from 25 countries on three race days. This was also when a Biathlon World Championship was broadcast live on television for the first time and turned the sport into a true winter sports trend-setter.
The Ruhpolding Biathlon World Championships in 1996 were full of athletic and media highlights. The women’s competitions had already conquered the viewing public’s hearts and were out of the early shadows. That the stands and the track achieved record visits and were filled to the last spot was certainly attributable to Petra Behle and Uschi Disl’s successes. The Biathlon stadium with its modern exterior, its demanding race course and the perfect shooting range also contributed to the popularity of the sport. Masses of media representatives with media coverage that broke all previous records created an extraordinary World Championship event. The Junior World Championships have also been regularly carried out in the Chiemgau Arena: 1979, 1993, when Ole Einar Björndalen became three-fold Junior World Champion, and 2008, when Eurosport first broadcasted all the races live and Magdalena Neuner won the last of her total of seven Junior World Championship titles.
The success story was continued in the fourth Biathlon World Championships in Ruhpolding in 2012. True to its motto “We are one family” this event was marked by exceptionally fair races, excellent stadium conditions and great sportsmanship amongst the spectators from all over the world all in wonderful weather. The record-breaking World Champion Magdalena Neuner said good-bye to her fans with full honors winning four medals and emotionally gripping moments. On the other hand, some new stars rose during the 2012 Ruhpolding World Championships: Martin Fourcade began his unparalleled winning streak. Truly the spectators were amongst the winners who arrived in unprecedented numbers. For the total of eight races days, there were 240,000 spectators.
MAGDALENA NEUNER (* 1987)
No German athlete has ever dominated her sport so completely at such a young age as Magdalena Neuner who was born in 1987 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. At the age of 20 in 2007 she won three gold medals in Antholz. In a veritable rush, the young athlete from Wallgau captured the spectator’s hearts, but even before winning her three gold medals, her later successes could be anticipated from her early years. By 2008 she had participated in four Junior-World Championships and won seven titles, where she was far faster than others in her age-group. After winning the overall World Cup in the winter of 2007/08 she received the “female athlete of the year” award, she was undeniably the face of German winter sports After her double win at the Olympic games in Vancouver, her market value rose to record heights and even after her retirement in 2012, she remained a popular figure within and beyond Germany.
The term “snow farming” first appeared in 2005. The concept originated in Finland and describes the attempt to preserve the snow produced during the winter in a depot so it can last until the following winter to prepare the tracks. The Chiemgau Arena began planning the technicalities for snow farming in 2006 when it was clear that the former snow reliability was becoming less and less certain as compared to former years.
The Chiemgau Arena managers successfully attempted to store 8,000 cubic meters of artificial snow on a gravel surface over the summer. But it snowed so little the following 2007 winter that it was impossible to generate enough snow to store throughout the summer. In preparation for the reconstruction of the Chiemgau Arena for the 2012 Biathlon World Championships, a stable 7 meter high cement depot was constructed. It has a 15,000 cubic meter capacity which is the equivalent of six 50 m swimming pools. It is re-filled by various snow generating sources each winter. Thick Styrofoam plates underneath tarpaulins ensure that the snow pile does not thaw too much. This way, up to 70 % of the original snow mass can actually survive the summer and as of November a 50 cm thick base layer of snow can be spread on the tracks for training on snow for the athletes and for the World Cup for which 30,000 cubic meters of snow are required. Through this new snow storage which permits preparation of the tracks and the stadium in November, Ruhpolding can easily maintain its reputation as a provider of national and international competitions.
Starting in the 80s, the World Cup was introduced as a regular competition series, and this quickly catapulted the sport into the limelight thanks to new race techniques and exciting new disciplines. From the beginning, the World Cup in Ruhpolding was a steady star in the World Cup calendar and maintains its leading role in the development of the biathlon sport: the first flood light World Cup Competition took place in Ruhpolding, and in 2010 the mass-start made its World Cup debut in the framework of a test-competition in Ruhpolding.
The television viewers and live fans’ unwavering enthusiasm has led to organization of the World Cup becoming increasingly professionalized. The ARD and the ZDF television stations broadcast live from the Chiemgau Arena with the most modern camera technology and specialized cameras such as the spider-cam, cable cam, and super-slow-motion-camera, to provide the viewers at home the best images from the Chiemgau Arena. The extreme weather conditions and temperatures in the winter create a special challenge. The fans in the stadium and along the track can see live pictures from almost everywhere in the Chiemgau Arena on the many video screens, and are brought into high spirits by the anchors in advance of the races. World Cup sponsors and partners can invite their guests to the VIP tent for an exclusive and special experience. The two-story tent has a classy atmosphere, an excellent view of the competition through the glass front, and culinary delicacies.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE WORLD CUP IN RUHPOLDING:
* Up to 90.000 fans visit the World Cup every year
* Over 1,000 volunteers help ensure a smooth course of events
* On average about 5 million viewers watch the live broadcasts from the Chiemgau Arena on German TV
* 14 international television channels report from the Chiemgau Arena
* There are 22 km of temporary and 14 km permanent fiberglass cables to transmit data to and from the Arena
* 7 wax trucks and about 100 area containers are set up for the World Cup week for ski-technicians, locker rooms, first aid, and security services
RICCO GROSS (* 1970)
Born in 1970 in Schelma in the Erzgebirge area of Germany, Ricco Groß started biathlon in 1983. His first major successes were winning the Junior World-Championships in Norway in 1989 and in Finland in 1990. He has been training with the Ruhpolding Ski Club since 1991 and was able to secure four gold medals at the Olympic Games between 1992 and 2006 as well as nine World Championship titles. This makes Ricco Groß the most successful German biathlete along with Sven Fischer. From 2015 to 2018, after his active career, he was the biathlon coach for the German women’s team and the head coach of the men’s team. He has been the Austrian men’s team trainer since 2018.
Trainings- und Veranstaltungszentrum für Biathlon und Ski Nordisch
Chiemgau Arena GmbH
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