France, Belarus and Sweden show collective prowess in biathlon relays
The French quartet won the biathlon mixed relay at PyeongChang 2018 to hand Martin Fourcade his fifth Olympic gold (and his third of these Games). The relays also produced a golden landmark for Darya Domracheva who took her personal Olympic title haul to four as she helped Belarus win the women’s event to become the most decorated female biathlete in history. Meanwhile the Swedes produced a flawless performance to overcome the Norwegians and Germans in the men’s relay.
Fourcade leads French quartet to mixed relay gold
Thanks to two fault-free rounds of shooting Martin Fourcade led France across the finish line with an advantage of more than 20 seconds over Norway in the biathlon mixed relay on 20 February. It was his third gold of PyeongChang 2018 following victories in the men’s pursuit and mass star, and his fifth overall, making him the most successful French Olympian of all time. The battle for the bronze produced a breathtaking sprint for the line in which Italy’s Dominik Windisch edged out Arnd Peiffer of Germany.
Fourcade’s team-mate Marrie Dorin-Habert – a five-time world champion – gave the French a perfect start as the 31-year-old produced an error-free display of shooting on her visit to the range. However, a troubled performance from Anaïs Bescond when shooting prone saw France slip out of the podium places before Simon Desthieux lifted them into third behind Germany and Italy.
The Germans, who were regarded as hot favourites in the event, appeared to be on track for gold, with Vanessa Hinz, Laura Dahlmeier and Eric Lesser all keeping them in pole position. However, in the final leg, their compatriot Arnd Peiffer, who had already won gold in the men’s sprint, could not match Fourcade’s accuracy in the shooting, and when he was required to complete a penalty loop, the French surged ahead.
Meanwhile, Norway produced a surge of their own to force their way into second place. Patchy performances from Marte Olsbu and Tiril Eckhoff had left them out of the medal positions, but then Johannes Thingnes Bø delivered a blistering leg to leave anchorman Emil Hegle Svendsen well placed to seal the silver.
“A magnificent result for this team, and for all the technicians who work so hard to prepare our skis,” was how Fourcade summed up the French victory. “We often say this is an individual sport but we live together for 220 days a year as a team. This is a very emotional title for us and one that means a lot to all of us.”
Belarus make light of snow and wind to win women’s relay
Snowfall and heavy winds provided the backdrop for the women’s 4x6.5km biathlon relay on 22 February. With such challenging conditions producing plenty of penalties on the range, it was always likely that the team demonstrating the most accurate marksmanship would prevail. Using just nine reserve shots, it was the Belarusian quartet of Darya Domracheva, Nadezhda Skardino, Iryna Kryuko and Dzinara Alimbekava who claimed an impressive gold thanks to a masterclass on the range, as Sweden took silver and France claimed bronze.
Lying fourth behind Poland, France and Italy going into the final length, Belarus looked to be well out of contention. However, Domracheva, who won three golds at Sochi 2014, produced her best form, notching a fault-free performance in the prone shooting to propel her team into first place. Not even three missed shots in the standing could prevent her from crossing the finish line well ahead of her closest rival.
Swedish revelation Hanna Öberg, a gold medallist in the 15km individual event, also delivered a fine display with her rifle to secure a dramatic silver for the Scandinavians. Her accuracy had not been matched by her teammates Linn Persson, Mona Brorsson et Anna Magnusson, whose 12 faults had left Sweden trailing in eighth place and almost a minute off the pace going into the final leg.
The French quartet, comprising Anaïs Chevalier and Justine Braisaz along side mixed relay gold medallists Marie-Dorin Habert and Anaïs Bescond remained in the podium places throughout the race, amassing just 14 misses between them and avoiding any penalty loops – enough to see them secure the bronze, as Bescond finished 17 seconds off the winning time.
Domracheva’s fourth gold saw her move ahead of Germany’s Kati Wilhelm and Slovakia’s Anastasia Kuzmina – each with three golds – to become the most successful female biathlete in Olympic history.
"There have been a lot of questions along the way, ” reflected the Belarusian. “Having days like this, and winning medals shows how important it is to keep on believing in yourself and in your team, and overcome the problems. Do that and the doors will open for you.”
Super Swedes hit their marks to take men’s relay gold
In an action-packed men’s 4x7.5km relay, the destiny of the gold came down to the final head-to-head at the range between Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen and Sweden’s Fredrik Lindström. The latter managed to master the windy conditions better than his Scandinavian rival to help secure an impressive gold. Germany completed the podium line-up in bronze medal position.
Lindström’s accurate shooting enabled him to cross the finish line a full 55 seconds ahead of ahead of Svendsen, who had to complete a penalty loop during the final standing shoot. By that stage the Swede had already been provided with an excellent platform by his three team-mates Peppe Femling, Jespen Nelin and Sebastian Samuelsson, the latter of whom managed to hold his own against Norway’s individual gold medallist. Johannes Thingnes Bø.
Germany, whose anchorman Simon Schempp finished over two minutes behind the winner, had started the strongest thanks to Erik Lesser, before pole position shifted to the Czech quartet thanks to the accurate shooting Michal Šlesingr followed by the strong skiing of Jaroslav Sokup in the third leg.
Sokup was eventually overhauled by Norway’s Thingnes Bø, who had been left with plenty of work to do after some wayward rifle work by Lars Helge Birkeland his brother Tarjei Bø.
By the final switch over, the Czech challenge had effectively ended, and it was Sweden and Germany who were vying with Norway for the podium spots. In the end the Swedes’ accuracy proved crucial as they finished with just seven missed targets between them and were the only team to avoid any penalties.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Samuelsson, arguably the main architect of Sweden’s first ever men’s relay title. It was a sentiment fully shared by team-mate Lindström: “I can’t believe I’ve got my first Olympic medal, and it’s gold,” he enthused. “I used to watch the Olympics when I was a boy and dream of being there one day. Now we’re Olympic champions. It’s crazy!”