Women’s biathlon: Indomitable Domracheva lands golden treble
Darya Domracheva won three of the four individual women’s biathlon golds on offer at the Laura Cross Country Ski & Biathlon Centre, as Norway won the first ever mixed team relay, and there was belated joy for Ukraine in the women’s relay.
9 February 2014: Kuzmina retains sprint title
Defending champion Anastasiya Kuzmina (SLK) stormed to victory in the 7.5km sprint, becoming the first woman to win two Olympic individual biathlon titles in the same event. Kuzmina won in a time of 21:06.08 to see off Olga Vilukhina (RUS), who came in 19.9 seconds later. Vita Semerenko (UKR) took bronze, 21.7 seconds behind the champion.
World Cup leader Tora Berger (NOR) finished 10th, more than 33 seconds behind the winner, while her fellow favourite Gabriela Soukalová (CZE) could only manage 29th place, having registered three faults on the shooting range.
The Russian-born Kuzmina was both surprised by her victory and delighted at the response from the local fans. “I felt the support of the fans here. The whole stadium was cheering for me. I feel the home atmosphere,” she said. “I don't know how I managed to get myself together and perform like this today.”
A day earlier she had seen her brother, Anton Shipulin, narrowly miss out on a podium place in the men’s 10km sprint, which made her win today especially emotional. “This victory was for him, too,” she said. “I hope that it inspires him for the pursuit.”
Vilukhina, who had struggled to be fit in time for Sochi, was delighted to crown her comeback with a medal. “I’m bursting with emotions, but I need to control them because another race is coming up and I need to feel strong and to get myself together,” she said.
11 February 2014: Domracheva takes gold in women’s 10km pursuit
Darya Domracheva (BLR) clinched gold in the women’s 10km biathlon pursuit, winning her first Olympic title in convincing fashion. The Belarusian crossed the line in 29:30.7, 37.6 seconds ahead of Tora Berger (NOR), with Teja Gregorin (SLV) third in 30:12.7.
A formidable performance saw her overturn an early 32-second deficit, produce an almost flawless showing on the shooting range, where she hit all targets in the two prone shoots and the first standing, only missing one of five in the final standing.
Domracheva, whose only previous Olympic medal was the bronze she won at Vancouver 2010 in the individual, said that her win had been far from easy.
“I knew I had enough time so I wasn’t disappointed,” explained the Belarusian. “I was really calm and confident before the race. I was the hope of my country. I didn't read the papers but I felt that everyone had hopes on me. I felt their nerves. But I just tried to be myself and rely on myself as I have a lot of experience,” she added.
Gregorin, a relative veteran at 33, produced a career highlight performance to win her first Olympic medal and Slovenia’s third at Sochi 2014.
14 February 2014: Domracheva wins 15km to claim second biathlon gold
Daria Domracheva stormed to victory in the women’s individual 15km to claim her second title at Sochi 2014. With just one fault on the shooting range, the Belarusian completed the course in a time of 43 minutes 19.6 seconds, finishing ahead of Elisa Gasparin (SUI), who took the silver at 1:15.7 and Nadezdha Skardino (BLR) at 1:38.2, who scooped the bronze.
Domracheva made light of a mistake at the shooting range thanks to her unmatchable speed on skis. “It was so hard I had to try to recover in the downhill sections,” Domracheva revealed. “On a few loops I was with [Czech Gabriela] Soukalova and she was following me easily so I was a bit concerned,” she added before thanking her service man for the job done on her skis. I think everyone saw that I had fantastic skis, and that is thanks to my service man,” she said.
Gasparin, Switzerland’s first ever medal winner in biathlon, shot cleanly but had to settle for silver, a huge 1 minute 15.7 seconds behind Domracheva, whose compatriot Skardino finished 1:38.2 off the pace for bronze. “It's incredible. I realised I had the potential for a medal after my [World Cup] victories [last December],” said a delighted Gasparin. “But making it here on the biggest stage of all, it's just insane. It's also the first time of my life that I hit all 20 targets,” she added. “It was my dream to be on the podium with Darya.”
17 February 2014: Domracheva win 12.5km mass start to complete golden hat-trick
Darya Domracheva’s dazzling Sochi 2014 continued as she won the 12.5lm mass start to complete a hat-trick of gold medals. In doing so she became the first woman to win three biathlon titles at the same Winter Games.
The Belarusian missed just one target on her final standing shoot as she completed the course in 35 minutes 25.6 seconds, placing her 20.2 seconds ahead of Gabriela Soukalová (CZE) who took the silver medal. The bronze went to Tiril Eckhoff (NOR) who finished in 35 minutes 52.9 seconds.
“I am thankful to the people who support me. Without their support it'd be harder,” Domracheva afterwards. “I was hearing 'Dasha, Dasha' from the tribune. "Maybe it sounds strange but it does not feel like I did something special. I did it with love."
Domracheva was in such dominant form that her main rivals were left competing for silver. “I thought she was going to win today, she was so strong in the last races I did not believe somebody could be faster than her,” said Soukalova. “I didn't race against her today; I thought it would be better to race with just myself.”
Eckhoff, who had to outsprint German Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle in the final straight to clinch the bronze, was also full of admiration for Domracheva. “She skies like a dancer,” said the Norwegian.
That was a comparison that the Belarusian was happy to acknowledge: “To be honest I really like to dance, it's my second favourite occupation,” she revealed.
As a result of her third gold, Domracheva became her country's most successful Olympic athlete in history.
19 February 2014: Berger and Eckhoff help Norway to inaugural mixed relay gold
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 Soukalová, 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 heavily 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. Despite two errors at 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.
However, she was overtaken during her ski by the leading light of the Czech women’s team Soukalová, who sent her team-mate Soukup into 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 backed by a strong ski, to ensure that anchorman Svendsen enjoyed a 43-second advantage going into the final leg.
Svendsen delivered a solid display to ensure a golden finish for Norway and a record 13th medal for Bjørndalen. “It was impossible to get the better of Norway today,” concluded Soukalová.
21 February 2014: Joy at last for Ukraine as biathlon quartet win women’s relay gold
Ukraine scored a famous victory in the women's team biathlon relay, with an inspired performance from its quartet of Olena Pidhrushna, Vita and Valj Semerenko, and Juliya Dzhyma to push the two favourites lower down the podium.
The team led from the start in the 4x6 km relay race, finishing in 1 hour 10 minutes 2.5 seconds, with a gap of 26.4 seconds over second-placed Russia (Yana Romanova, Olga Zaitseva, Ekaterina Shumilova, Olga Vilukhina). Norway’s highly fancied team (Fanny Welle-Strand Horn, Tiril Eckhoff, Ann Kristin Aafedt Flatland, Tora Berger) came in third, a further 11.2 seconds behind, to claim the bronze.
As she crossed the line, Ukrainian anchor Pidhrushna was embraced in delight by her tearful team-mates. “This was very important for us. It’s the Olympic Games!” declared a delighted Pidhrushna. “We’ve been training for this moment for years. We knew that we were strong, that we had a great team, and now we’ve done it. We are truly very happy!”
Vita Semerenko, who won bronze in the women’s biathlon sprint, started with fiery determination, giving Ukraine an early lead that was then bolstered by the little known Dzhyma on the second leg.
However, Ukraine then had to bounce back from a shaky bit of shooting from Valj Semerenko, as the twin sister of Vita missed three targets from the standing position, but Pidhrushna held her nerve in a final sprint for the finish to hold off Russia's Vilukhina.
Valj Semerenko could not hold back her emotions during the flower ceremony. “When I was on the podium I couldn't stop crying,” she admitted. “I tried to calm down and was trying to hide it behind my skis. They were tears of happiness, not only mine, but of the whole country, our team.”
Prior to their gold in the relay, Ukraine had endured a relatively poor Games, with just the solitary bronze medal won by Vita Semerenko.
She admitted that she was still struggling to take in the magnitude of the team’s achievement: “It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s the dream of a whole lifetime. Our dream and the dream of the whole of Ukraine has come true. We are champions.”
Meanwhile, Russian anchor Vilukhina, who shrugged off illness worries to compete in the relay, was ecstatic about her team’s performance. “I’m incredibly happy,” said Vilukhina after anchoring Russia to the silver medal. “I’ve never felt so happy. As I was skiing the last leg, I tried not to get myself too wound up. I went to rest area, closed my eyes, and had a short nap. I used that time to focus, and it meant I could go into my leg at 100%,” she revealed.