BIATHLON IN RUHPOLDING – In search of a commercially attractive sport
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.