France’s Martin Fourcade displayed incredible accuracy at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, twice hitting the target five times out of five, to retain his title in the men’s biathlon 12.5km pursuit on Monday 12 February at Pyeongchang 2018.
Fourcard, the pre-race favourite, had started in sixth position and 22 seconds behind leader Arnd Peiffer (GER), but the 29-year-old won by a gap of 12 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson, who won silver, and 15.1 seconds ahead of Germany’s Benedikt Doll in bronze.
Peiffer, who started the race with a four-second lead, which he at one point extended to nine seconds, missed the target in his third visit to the shooting range, while Fourcade’s flawless performance saw him open up a 30-second advantage. He showed great nerve again in his last shoot, just as he did four years ago in the same event, to give himself an unassailable lead.
Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bo, another of the favourites alongside Fourcade, finished fourth having started in 31st place, one minute and 13 seconds back.
The eleven-time world champion, who finished the race with French flag in hand, is the first man in history to defend this title. He is also now France’s most decorated Winter Olympian with five medals, and just the third French athlete to win three Olympic golds.
“I am very proud to be Olympic champion for a third time, to join [Alpine skier] Jean-Claude Killy and [canoeist] Tony Estanguet as three-time winners,” he said.
Strength from disappointment
Fourcade finished a disappointing eighth in the men’s 10km sprint a the previous day, and he admits he used the anger he felt after his performance to motivate himself this time around.
“I can't explain it. It is a deep feeling inside when I manage to turn anger into strength and it's something not easy to do,” explained the French biathlete on his recovery from the sprint. “You need to be really angry with yourself and to blame yourself in a way, and it worked.
“When you fail you don't want to fail a second time in a row,” he continued. “It was really painful because I wanted that Olympic gold (the sprint) more than anything else.”
“It was really a strange feeling - I wasn't frustrated, I was disappointed. Yesterday I didn't understand why I missed three, I wanted this Olympic gold medal in the sprint more than any gold medal.
Fourcade made just one error in the pursuit, missing in the first prone shoot but shooting clean after that, including a high-pressure five-shot salvo alongside Germany’s Arnd Peiffer that proved decisive.
“I think it was the key time of the competition, because on the third shoot the wind was really tricky and challenging, the most difficult shot of today,” the 29-year-old reflected.
“I took a bit more time than my opponent to shoot my first ammunition, then when I realised that I'd shot clean, I knew I was the only one who would decide who would be the Olympic champion.”
Silver medallist Sebastian Samuelsson had plenty of praise for Fourcade. “Martin is the perfect biathlete,” said the Swede. “I knew when he finished eighth yesterday, I knew today he would be really fighting for the gold medal. He's unbelievably good.”
In third place as the race reached its climax, the 20-year-old made a brave late break against experienced German Benedikt Doll and the gamble paid off handsomely.
“He had some metres [on me] after the shooting and I knew I had really good skis today, so I knew if I could catch him at the top I would have a good chance,” added Samuelsson.