Double for Dahlmeier, and golds for Öberg and Kuzmina in the women’s biathlon
Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier registered an unprecedented sprint/pursuit double at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, while Sweden’s Hanna Öberg scored a surprise victory in the 15km individual and Slovakia’s Anastasia Kuzmina added to her extensive Olympic medal collection with a superb win in the mass start.
Dahlmeier makes fast start
The opening biathlon event of PyeongChang 2018, the women’s sprint saw the 24-year-old Dahlmeier live up to her status as the pre-race favourite by beating Norway’s Marte Olsbu to the line by more than 24 seconds. Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic finished a further two seconds back to claim the bronze.
Having shaken off her early-season fitness worries, Dahlmeier handled the testing course and conditions with aplomb and shot clear en route to a comfortable win, one that cemented her position as the dominant force in the discipline.
The winner of five titles at the 2017 World Championships in Hochfilzen (GER) and the reigning World Cup champion, the German produced a controlled race. Lying eighth after the prone shoot, she moved into the lead after the standing and never looked back.
Remarkably, the German was the only member of the top 20 to shoot clear, with Olsbu and Vitkova both incurring a penalty each. Two-time defending champion Kuzmina placed 13th after three misses on the range, while Sochi 2014 star Darya Domracheva of Belarus missed two targets in the standing shoot and Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, another of the favourites, missed three.
“I’m so proud,” said Dahlmeier after earning her first Olympic gold. “It’s the best thing you can achieve as an athlete. It’s not easy because of everything that happened last year. People were expecting big things of me today.”
Dahlmeier at the double
Two days later, Dahlmeier gave another superb demonstration of her skills to win the pursuit and become the first female biathlete in history to complete the sprint/pursuit double at the same Olympic Winter Games.
The only blemish on an otherwise perfect performance was a missed target in her second prone shoot, though that did not stop the German from crossing the line nearly half a minute ahead of Kuzmina, who just held off France’s Anaïs Bescond in the sprint for silver.
The Slovakian looked set to challenge the German for gold at the halfway stage only for two missed targets in the first standing shoot to end her hopes. That left Dahlmeier to coast to victory and emulate Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the only other biathlete to do the double at the same Games, a feat he achieved at Salt Lake City 2002.
“It’s a wonderful feeling, just fantastic,” said the ecstatic German. “I don’t know what to say because I felt so tired even before the race. I just tried to stay focused, and here I am.”
Öberg springs a surprise
Hnna Öberg caused a major upset in winning the individual 15km, shooting clear to hold off the challenges of Kuzmina and Dahlmeier, who took the silver and bronze respectively.
Without a top-three World Cup or world championships finish heading into PyeongChang 2018, the 22-year-old Swede was flawless on the shooting range and fast on her skis. In succeeding the much-fancied Domracheva as Olympic champion, Öberg fulfilled the promise she showed in finishing seventh in the sprint and fifth in the pursuit.
“I’m amazed with myself and very surprised,” said Öberg, a world junior sprint and pursuit champion in 2016. “I would never have believed this was possible. Winning this race is just incredible. I can’t believe my performance. I’m so happy I shot clear too. My coaches have brought me here in great form.”
In finishing 24.7 seconds behind the Swede after missing two targets on the range, Kuzmina collected the fifth Olympic medal of her career, while Dahlmeier came in a further 16.5 seconds back, after missing a shot on her first prone shoot.
Kuzmina makes it three Olympic golds
With two PyeongChang 2018 silvers already under her belt, Anastasia Kuzmina finally climbed to the top of the podium thanks to an imperious display in the mass start, which brought her a third Olympic title. Taking silver behind her was defending champion Domracheva and Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff.
Faster than the rest of the 30-strong field on the skis, the Slovakian led from start to finish and went clear on her first three visits to the shooting range, helping her to build up a 50-second lead handing into her last shoot.
Though Kuzmina missed a target on her last shoot and had to ski a 150m penalty loop, it did not stop her from cruising to the line, over 18 seconds ahead of Domracheva, who also had a solitary miss to her name. For her part, Eckhoff missed two targets in finishing over 27 seconds behind the winner.
The first female biathlete to win three golds at three successive Winter Games and the proud owner of six Olympic medals in all, Kuzmina said: “It feels amazing to have that record. My first medal of these Games was for me, the second was for my brother and this third one is for Slovakia and the whole team.”