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Forty-year-old Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen took his overall Olympic medal tally to 12, following victory in the 10km sprint. In doing so he became the joint highest medal winner in Winter Olympic history, drawing level with cross-country skier Bjørn Daehlie.
Despite notching a fault on the shooting range and incurring a 150m penalty, Bjørndalen produced an overall time of 24:33.5, which was good enough to edge Dominik Landertinger (AUT) and Jaroslav Soukup (CZE) into second and third respectively. Russia’s Anton Shipulin finished less than a second off the podium in fourth.
Despite his huge Olympic pedigree, which stretched back to Lillehammer 1994, the Norwegian was not among the main favourites going into Sochi, having not won a major individual title since 2009.
However, galvanised by the prospect of further Olympic glory, he brought all of his experience and tactical acumen to bear, outmanoeuvring the two hot favourites: World Cup leader Martin Fourcade (FRA), and reigning world champion Emil Hegle Svendsen (NOR), who finished sixth and ninth place respectively.
Having executed a faultless prone round on the shooting range, Bjørndalen faltered in the standing shoot, with the resulting penalty loop causing him to drop to fifth in the overall standings, 6.1 seconds off the pace going into the final lap.
But in the final kilometre of his ski that he truly came into his own, producing a burst of acceleration for which his fellow competitors had no answer.
France’s Martin Fourcade won the men’s biathlon pursuit, finishing in 33:48.6, 14.1 seconds ahead of Ondrej Moravec (CZE) who claimed the silver. Jean Guillaume Beatrix provided France with a double presence on the podium, as climbed from 14th place to finish on 34:12.8 and take bronze.
Fourcade dominated the race from the mid-stage after a flawless final shooting component.
Fourcade, whose only previous Olympic medal had been a silver in the mass start at Vancouver 2010, was ecstatic at getting his first taste of gold and said that the moment was made even more special by the presence of Beatrix next to him on the podium.
“I’m really pleased to be on the podium with my old childhood friend,” he beamed. “These Games are not over yet! I want to go out there and win other titles,” he added. “My Olympic campaign is off to a good start, but there are still some exciting events to play for.”
The day ended in disappointment for Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who finished fourth, missing out on a chance to set a new Winter Olympic medals record. Despite good ski speed, the Norwegian missed targets in the second prone and both standing shootings to finish in 34:14.5, 1.7 seconds short of the podium.
Martin Fourcade won his second gold medal of Sochi 2014 with a stylish victory in in the men’s individual 20km event. Fourcade, the reigning world champion in the 20km, became the first French athlete to win two golds at a single Winter Games since Jean-Claude Killy at Grenoble 1968. Germany's Erik Lesser took silver (49:43.9), while Evgeniy Garanichev (RUS) took bronze (50.06.2).
“I don’t think I had anything to prove ahead of Sochi,” said the world number one. “I’m getting so much out of these Games! For me the main thing is the joy of being able to realise a childhood dream.”
The Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Centre provided a stunning mountain-top setting for Fourcade’s triumph on a day that tested stamina, strength, precision and nerves to the max. The 20km individual event – arguably the most gruelling in biathlon – is the one that comes down particularly hard on missed shots at the range, with biathletes incurring a one-minute penalty for every target missed.
Fourcade took it in his stride, once again demonstrating unerring accuracy at the range. Allied with his speed on skis, it was his consistency that made the ultimate difference.
While thrilled at his achievements thus far at Sochi 2014, Fourcade made it clear that he had no intention of resting on his laurels. “Now, the main goal is the relay events. I’d like to win a medal with my team-mates,” he explained.
Emil Hegle Svendsen (NOR) triumphed in a thrilling men’s 15km mass start to deny Martin Fourcade a third gold medal at Sochi 2014. As the two men recorded the same time of 49 minutes 29.1 seconds, it needed a photo-finish decision to separate them. Ondrej Moravec (CZE) came in 13.8 seconds later to claim the bronze.
Within the space of a few crucial seconds, as the race reached its climax, Svendsen galvanised what had thus far been a lacklustre Games for him. The Norwegian and Frenchman both took the snowy conditions in their stride to serve up a mesmerising contest in which the suspense was maintained until the final second.
For his part, Fourcade had a chance to equal the French record of three Olympic golds set by former Alpine skier and current IOC member Jean-Claude Killy.
Meanwhile, for Svendsen, Fourcade’s regular foe on the Biathlon World Cup circuit, the mass start represented a chance to turn his Games around. And that is precisely what he did. Going into the mass start, the Norwegian was the only one of biathlon’s big guns not to have made the podium, having come ninth in the sprint, and seventh in the individual and the 20km.
But he summoned all his power, skill and experience, to put those disappointments firmly behind him. Going into the last leg of the ski after the final visit to the shooting range, the Norwegian was closely tracked by Fourcade and Moravec.
Svendsen’s end-game was ruthlessly effective. First he dispensed with the Czech challenge, launching a powerful attack on the last hill which broke Moravec’s resistance. Fourcade only just avoided a fall to stay on the Norwegian’s heels, as the two men engaged in a neck-and-neck battle over the final stretch.
With the finish line in their sights, Svendsen then posed a question to which the Frenchman had no response. Managing to overtake Fourcade over the last metre, the latter desperately thrust out his left ski in a last attempt to cross the line first.
“I thought I had things under control, but when I saw the result of the photo finish, it seems I didn’t have things so under control,” admitted Svendsen. “When I saw the photo-finish I was surprised to see how close it was. But I knew I was first,” he added.
Meanwhile the previously invincible Fourcade accepted that he could have no complaints with second place on this occasion. “I’m very happy to win this medal,” said the Frenchman, gesturing towards his silver. “I was well beaten. It’s a shame to lose my title by such a small distance. I’d have loved to complete the triple, and I felt I had the legs for it. But I’m delighted for Emil, who was not having a great Games up until now.”
The Frenchman made it clear that, with two events still to come in the men’s biathlon, he would be more determined than ever to reassert the upper hand. “I wanted to show him who’s the boss,” he added. “But we still have two relays left…”
Norway surged to victory in the first ever mixed biathlon relay, but there was an even more notable landmark for 40-year-old Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who won his 13th Olympic medal, more than any other athlete in the history of the Winter Games.
Joining Bjørndalen in Norway’s impressive line-up was Emil Hegle Svendsen, winner of the men’s mass start a day earlier, while Tora Berger and Tiril Eckhoff raced the two women’s legs. They combined to deliver a powerhouse display, clocking 1 hour 09:17.0 minutes to finish 32.6 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals.
A strong Czech Republic quartet (Veronika Vitkova, Gabriela Soukalova, Jaroslav Soukup, Ondrej Moravec) took silver in 1:09:49.6, while a delighted Italian team (Dorothea Wierer, Karin Oberhofer, Dominik Windisch, Lukas Hofer) completed the race in 1:10:15.2, ahead of the strongly fancied German and Russian collectives to clinch the bronze.
With the men completing skiing legs of 7.5km each, and the women racing over 6km, the event enabled the Norwegians to fully showcase their strength in depth in the biathlon. Overcoming two errors on her visit to the shooting range, Berger still managed to steer Norway into pole position as she handed over to Eckhoff, who delivered a faultless display of marksmanship, but was overtaken during her ski by the leading light of the Czech women’s team Soukalova.
Soukalova ensured that her team-mate Soukup embarked on the third leg with a fractional advantage over Norway’s Bjørndalen. The latter made up the deficit with a typically impeccable performance on the range and a strong ski, to, ensure that anchorman Svendsen enjoyed a 43-second advantage going into the final leg.
Svendsen delivered a solid display in the anchor role to ensure a golden finish for Norway.
Bjørndalen celebrated his historic 13th medal with characteristic understatement: “It's cool. It's a big thing for me,” he said of his new record.
Soukalova summed up the strength of the performance from Bjørndalen and his compatriots quite simply: “It was impossible to get the better of Norway today.”
Russia took gold in a dramatic men's biathlon team relay as their quartet of Alexey Volkov, Evgeny Ustyugov, Dmitry Malyshko and Anton Shipulin produced a winning time of 1 hour 12 minutes 15.9 seconds.
Germany (Simon Lesser, Arnd Böhm, Daniel Peiffer and Erik Schempp) finished 3.5 seconds later to take silver, after a thrilling dash for the line between Shipulin and Schempp.
Austria (Christoph Sumann,Daniel Mesotitsch, Simon Eder and Domenik Landertinger) came in a further 26.3 seconds back to take the bronze, denying defending champions Norway a place on the podium.
Going into the final leg, four teams were neck-and-neck. However, Norway's anchorman Emil Hegle Svendsen produced a poor final standing shoot, missing three out of five targets that effectively put his team out of contention for the podium.
Ole Einar Bjørndalen went into the relay knowing that victory for the Norwegians would give him a record-breaking ninth gold medal. And for much of the contest that looked like a distinct possibility. Having completed a solid third leg, after missing no targets in both the prone and the standing positions, Bjørndalen handed over to Svendsen in pole.
But his team-mate then suffered a rare lapse on the shooting range which cost him a penalty circuit and pushed Norway out of the top three. “I'm very sad. It was my fault,” said a distraught Svendsen. “I have no explanation. “It's very hard, of course, and I think it's most disappointing for Tarjei Bø and Johannes Thinges Bø who got us so high up,” he added, referring to the Norwegians’ first two legs, during which they had built a commanding lead.
Bjørndalen, meanwhile, was quick to come to his team-mate’s defence. “The fact that this happened to Emil who was so well prepared, shows it can happen to everyone, and it can happen to the best of us,” he said.