The favourite to win all four men’s individual biathlon events at PyeongChang 2018, France’s Martin Fourcade had to be content with a pair of golds. His main rival, Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe, also gave a mixed performance, the highlight of which was a stunning victory in the 20km individual, while Germany’s Arnd Peiffer topped the podium in the sprint.
Perfect Peiffer takes sprint gold
Peiffer followed the example set by team-mate Laura Dahlmeier in the women’s sprint 24 hours earlier and shot clear to win his first Olympic gold. The silver went to Michal Krcmar of the Czech Republic, who also hit all ten targets on the shooting range, and the bronze to Italy’s Dominik Windisch.
With pre-race favourites Boe and Fourcade dropping out of contention for gold after each missing three targets in the prone shoot, Peiffer took full advantage to add to the men’s relay silver he won at Sochi 2014. Without a win in a World Cup sprint event since the 2014/15 season, the German handled the windy conditions at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre better than anyone to record an unexpected triumph.
“It's my third Olympic Winter Games and in the last two sprints, at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, I had two and three penalties because I put myself under so much pressure,” said Peiffer. “I was a bit more relaxed I think. I did a good job on the range today and that was the key to being in front. I'm quite surprised to be honest.”
Fourcade bounces back in the pursuit
It was business as usual for Fourcade the following day, as he retained his pursuit title in commanding style to equal Jean-Claude Killy’s French record of three Winter Games gold medals. In the battle for silver, Sweden’s rising star Sebastian Samuelsson got the better of Germany’s Benedikt Doll, who had to settle for bronze.
A six-time IBU World Cup winner and 11-time world champion, Fourcade atoned for his disappointing sprint, quickly making up the 22-second gap that separated him from Peiffer at the start of the 12.5km race and jumping into the lead in the second kilometre. Though Fourcade missed a target in the first prone shoot, it was his only mistake as he cruised to victory by a margin of 12 seconds from the young Swede, who, like Doll and Fourcade, missed only one shot.
“I’m very happy today,” said the three-time Olympic champion, who has 71 individual World Cup race wins to his name and a record 27 large and small crystal globes. “When I came here, I knew I’d be happy even if I didn’t win a gold in this event. That helped me take things more easily. I’m really satisfied with how I prepared for this competition.”
Boe on song
Absent from the sprint and pursuit podium, Boe lived up to his pre-Games billing by winning his maiden Olympic title in the individual 20km, despite two mistakes on the shooting range. Slovenia’s Jacov Fak and Austria’s Dominik Landertinger both shot clear to collect silver and bronze respectively.
The 24-year-old Norwegian held his nerve after missing his first and fourth shots, and owed his gold to a stunning performance on the skis, completing the course two minutes and five seconds faster than Fak and 42 seconds quicker than Fourcade, who had seemed set for another gold, only to miss his last two shots and finish out of the medals in fifth.
“It’s a huge moment for me,” said Boe, a winner of eight of the 15 World Cup races leading up to PyeongChang 2018. “I didn’t think I could win it after my last standing shoot and I was a bit lucky. Today was just my day.”
Fourcade makes history
Fourcade picked himself up from his setback in the individual by winning the mass start in the most dramatic fashion. Beaten to the line by a mere three centimetres by Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen in the same event at Sochi 2014, the French legend edged out Germany’s Simon Schempp in a thrilling sprint at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, stretching the tip of his left ski across the line to win by a mere 0.018 seconds.
As a result, Fourcade became his country’s most successful Winter Olympian of all time with four gold medals. Svendsen completed the podium, finishing 11 seconds off the pace.
The Frenchman made a shaky start to the race, missing a target in the first prone shoot and then falling to the snow after completing his penalty loop. Yet despite trailing the leaders by more than 20 seconds, Fourcade battled his way to the front to contest the lead with Schempp and Doll.
Though he would miss another target on his fourth and final visit to the shooting range, Fourcade turned for home neck and neck with Schempp. Their heart-stopping sprint for the line ended with the Frenchman smashing his ski pole into the snow in frustration, believing he had been beaten to the line by the narrowest of margins once again. Fortunately for him, the photo finish revealed a different outcome.
“Eight years ago in Vancouver I won silver in the mass start and then I lost by three centimetres in Sochi,” said the four-time Olympic champion afterwards. “So on the last lap I kept saying to myself, ‘No, it’s not going to happen again’. But when I threw my skis across the line I really felt as if I’d finished behind Simon. It’s magical.”