Dafovska strikes first gold for Bulgaria
Bulgaria had been sending athletes to the Winter Olympics since 1936, and while they had often featured prominently in competitions, the country had just one medal to show for their efforts. That had come in 1980, when Ivan Labanov won a bronze in the cross-country skiing.
In Nagano, Bulgaria’s strongest contender for a medal, and possibly even a first gold, was biathlete Yekaterina Dafovska. While not the favourite to win the 15km, she did come with some pedigree, having taken bronze medals at the 1995 and 1997 World Championships.
However, she wasn’t in her best form and was not even ranked in the top 50 in the world when she arrived in Nagano.
Knowing that others would be faster over the track, Dafovska was determined to produce her best shooting. And she did, missing just one target as she finished in a time of 54 minutes 52.0 seconds, enough to put her at the front of the field. However, there were lots of top biathletes still to finish, so Dafovska was forced to sit back and watch the rest of the field attack her score.
Germany’s Usch Disl also missed just one target, but surprisingly came home slower than Dafovska, moving into second place. Meanwhile, Slovenia's Andreja Grašič skied the course nearly two minutes faster, but missed four targets, while Magdalena Forsberg of Sweden, who had been many people's favourite ahead of the event, struggled from the start.
When Ukraine’s Olena Petrova came in 17 seconds slower than Dafovska, the die was cast. Bulgaria had its first ever Winter Olympic gold medal, and Nagano had a true shock result to celebrate.