Sochi recap: Biathlon, women’s sprint

The favorites fell short, Russia picked up a solid silver, and former Russian (now Slovakian) Anastasiya Kuzmina repeated as gold medalist in a surprising biathlon sprint.

Date: 9- Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Women’s sprint (7.5k)

Medalists: Anastasiya Kuzmina (Slovakia), Olga Vilukhina (Russia), Vita Semerenko (Ukraine)

SportsMyriad projections: Tora Berger (Norway), Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Gabriela Soukalova (Czech Republic)

How U.S. fared: Susan Dunklee was among the early starters and among the fastest in that group, shooting cleanly with the international feed’s cameras watching. And she was fast — through 30 skiers, she was the second-fastest through the prone shooting stage. The cameras caught up with her again on the standing shoot, and she half-laughed as she missed the last one, as if she realized she had nearly pulled off something special. She still posted the best finish ever by a U.S. woman in this event — 14th place. One miss costs skiers 20-25 seconds on a penalty loop — subtract 20 seconds from her time, and she finishes third.

Sara Studebacker missed one target and finished 44th. Annelies Cook missed two standing shots and took 53rd. They qualified for the pursuit; Hannah Dressigacker (65th, four misses) did not.

What happened: Format reminder: This is a race against the clock, with skiers starting at 30-second intervals. Two shooting stages: One prone, one standing.

And several of the early favorites missed on the easier prone stage. Look up at the projections — Berger missed one, Domracheva missed one, Soukalova missed THREE. Domracheva and Berger were in the top three among the early skiers but got bumped down through the evening.

Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina was the defending champion (and the brother of Russia’s Anton Shipulin, who just missed the podium in yesterday’s opener). She hasn’t been a consistent podium finisher in the past three years, though so surely she … oh, wait, she knocked down all 10 shots. And she was fast. She claimed the lead through 33 skiers.

While more favorites faltered, the unknowns came through. Poland’s Weronika Nowakowska-Ziemniak was briefly on the podium. Then Italy’s Karin Oberhofer grabbed second.

Russia’s Olga Vilukhina, who shot cleanly and clawed her way up the standings. The crowd roared as she came in second, 19.9 seconds back.

The late charger was Vita Semerenko, one of two V. Semerenkos competing for Ukraine. Her early split times were puzzlingly slow, but she shot cleanly and burned through the last lap. She finished 1.8 seconds behind Semerenko.

The top four finishers — Kuzmina, Vilukhina, Semerenko and Oberhofer — shot cleanly. One miss was enough to keep even the best off the podium.

Just to show how surprising this was: Here are the current World Cup sprint standings: Kuzmina 24th, Vilukhina 14th, Vita Semerenko 29th (Valj is 10th), Oberhofer 54th.

Quote: “This victory was for him, too. I hope that it inspires him for tomorrow’s pursuit. He can win.” – Kuzmina, speaking about her Russian brother, Anton Shipulin

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