Legendary Ole Einar Bjorndalen faces uphill battle to make seventh Olympic team
For two decades he's been the king of biathlon but Ole Einar Bjorndalen's crown could be about to slip just weeks before the Olympics.
The eight-time Olympic champion turns 44 later this month but hasn't given up hope of making a seventh Norwegian team in PyeongChang.
But after finishing a distant 52nd behind France's Martin Fourcade in the 10km sprint World Cup in Oberhof, Bjorndalen cut a dejected and defeated figure.
He was two minutes and 15 seconds off the pace in an event in which he claimed Olympic gold just four years ago in Sochi, refusing to speak with journalists as he crossed the line.
Norway took a team of six to the last Games and Bjorndalen is currently the seventh ranked Norwegian on the overall World Cup rankings. And his mood will not be lifted by the four national team-mates who finished in the top 15 in Oberhof, underlining the apparent changing of the guard.
It means that the pressure is on for next weekend's events in Ruhdolding, where Bjorndalen will compete in the 20km sprint event knowing there is no margin for error.
However, Norwegian national coach Siegfried Mazet insists there is still hope for the most decorated athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics, with 13 podium places since he made his debut at the 1998 Games in Nagano 20 years ago.
"Everything is still open, the train has not left yet," said Mazet.
Team-mate Emil Hegle Svendsen was one of three Norwegians in the top five behind Fourcade, with Johanne Thingnes Boe and Tarjei Boe ranking third and fifth respectively.
"I have faith in Ole," he insisted. "It was a tough day but nothing is decided. There is no reason he can't have a good day next week, selection for this team is always difficult."
However, Bjorndalen's former team-mate Halvard Hanevold, who joined forces with him to win relay gold in Salt Lake City and Vancouver, is less than confident about the veteran's chances.
"Ole has a big job to do to get to the Olympics," he told Norwegian television.
"It was not a good sign that he lost two minutes in pure cross-country skiing in Oberhof. It's not just getting to the Olympics, but also getting a distance there."