The final day of biathlon at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games provided plenty of plot twists as Italy sprang a late surprise on the dominant Russian team.
The Italian quartet crossed the line first in the mixed relay in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 55.3 seconds. They beat Russia to the top of the podium, and a stellar final exchange meant the French went home with bronze.
Oleg Domichek (RUS) held a lead of more than 25 seconds after the final exchange and looked set to power his side to the finish. Italian anchor Marco Barale (ITA), however, had other ideas.
The 16-year-old was error-free through two rounds of shooting and knew he almost had gold in the bag when he sped out of the range first for a final lap.
“I don’t remember anything of the last shoot,” Barale, a silver medallist in the single mixed relay, said. “I was a little bit nervous but I thought we have a medal already and I felt relaxed, and I shot good. I was thinking we’ve won so I was very happy.”
Men’s individual champion Domichek posted a dismal final round of shooting and was forced to ski a penalty loop.
“I just thought I didn’t have a chance,” he said after the race.
That was not the only unexpected development of the day. Norway had sat firmly in third place through three exchanges and looked certain for bronze until Mathieu Garcia (FRA) took over.
The Frenchman posted two rounds of clean shooting, lifting his side from fifth to the podium.
“I wasn’t thinking that much,” Garcia said. The 17-year-old is now a triple medallist after winning the single mixed relay and taking bronze in the individual.
“I saw the Norwegian [Vegard Thon] was missing a lot. I just thought, there’s my chance and I can’t let it go. I just used the public to focus [in the final shoot] and when I was behind my rifle I wanted one thing and that was to get five from five. That was done.”
Garcia and his teammates ensured those who showed up to support them at the Les Tuffes Nordic Centre, in French territory, had much to cheer.
The French team complete the biathlon competition as one of the top performers with one gold, one silver and two bronzes, missing out on medals in just the sprint events.
But it is the Russian side who have been the standout performers, finishing with three golds and three silvers and missing out on the podium in just one of six events.
“It’s a new generation of biathletes,” Denis Irodov (RUS) said. “Russia was so good in biathlon decades ago. A lot has changed since then and we may not have as many results as before. This is the start of a new generation of biathletes.”
The Italian team can also celebrate the depth of their emerging talent, having fared well in the relay events. Barale had teamed up with Linda Zingerle (ITA) for silver in the single mixed relay.
“It’s a great thing for biathlon in Italy,” Martina Trabucchi (ITA) said. “Biathlon is not a very very popular sport but it’s getting more popular. Maybe this will bring more attention for biathlon in Italy.”
Barale added: “There are no words to describe this. It’s unbelievable.”
It is perhaps why the young Italian turne