Sochi recap: Biathlon, men’s individual

France’s Martin Fourcade took his second gold medal of these Olympic Games. That was expected. Silver for Germany’s Erik Lesser was not. Bronze for Russia’s Evgeniy Garanichev defied all reason. And the USA’s Lowell Bailey had the best U.S. finish ever with a solid eighth-place run.

Date: 13-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Men’s individual (20k)

Medalists: Martin Fourcade (France), Erik Lesser (Germany), Evgeniy Garanichev (Russia)

SportsMyriad projections: Martin Fourcade (France), Dominik Landertinger (Austria), Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway)

How U.S. fared: Tim Burke, harboring faint but plausible medal hopes coming in, was the first U.S. athlete on the course, starting 29th. Lowell Bailey, also with a solid World Cup record, started 58th. Then the less experienced guys — Leif Nordgren 62nd, Russell Currier 79th.

Bailey actually got some screen time on the international feed, zipping cleanly through his fourth shooting stage. He missed one on the day and went through the next checkpoint in eighth place and finished the same way, one place behind medal favorite Svendsen. No one left on the course had a shot at displacing him. He wound up 26 places ahead of Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.

Burke missed four shots, all in standing stages, to finish 44th — 4:49.5 off the pace. Currier also missed four, all early, and came in 50th.

Nordgren implausibly missed all five shots in a prone stage. He finished 83rd.

What happened: This is the toughest of the biathlon events — five laps of 4k, with a shooting stage after each of the first four. If you miss, you can’t just fly around a penalty loop and make up time — each miss adds one minute to your time.

And it’s another event with athletes going one at a time. Some contenders’ starting positions:

  • Svendsen 9
  • Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (Norway) 15
  • Simon Eder (Austria) 16
  • Landertinger 19
  • M. Fourcade 31

The early surprise was Lithuania’s Tomas Kaukenas. He started 10th, and yet his split times kept holding up as the contenders went past. Shooting cleanly on the first three stages didn’t hurt. His best World Cup career finish: 22nd. This season? 40th.

Then came France’s Jean Guillaume Beatrix, the surprise bronze medalist in the pursuit. He had never finished in the top 10 in the grueling individual discipline, and yet he shot cleaning and took over the third-stage lead from Kaukenas.

Bjoerndalen, the 40something still chasing career medal records, took himself out of contention with his gun, missing one at each stage. Defending champion Svendsen took himself out with his skis, missing just once but not even taking the lead through the first nine starters.

Kaukenas finally blew up at the last stage, missing three. Eder shot cleanly there, missing just one total, and ripped through the fourth shoot with the lead.

But another stunner emerged. Russia’s Evgeniy Garanichev, the first skier on the course, missed one shot and set the early pace at 50:06.2. With no other times to compare, no one knew just how fast Garanichev had churned through the soft snow on a warm day. When Eder plowed across the finish line 3.3 seconds slower, we got the hint. Garanichev is a good sprinter but had never finished in the top seven of a World Cup individual.

Landertinger had shot cleanly. But he came into the stadium and couldn’t beat Garanichev or Eder, taking a precarious third position.

And he knew that wouldn’t hold against the masterful Martin Fourcade. He missed once and was a picture of determination as he knocked down the final five targets and raced out for his final lap. He finally removed Garanichev from first place, coming in at 49:31.7, 34.5 seconds faster than the Russian.

Germany’s Erik Lesser, starting 41st, at least had a better World Cup resume than Garanichev. His clean shooting put him in the mix, ahead of Fourcade at the fourth-shooting checkpoint. The German had coaches around the course to yell at him as he went by — possibly a blessing, possibly a curse. Lesser was never going to match Fourcade’s speed, but he did not Garanichev down to third and shoved Eder off the podium.

Half the field was still on the course, but no one was going to catch Fourcade, Lesser and Garanichev. The two Austrians, Eder and Landertinger, were next. Then the surprising Beatrix and disappointing Svendsen, who clearly isn’t in top form this week.

Quote: “Oh Lowell Bailey – well done. Plays in a band with his father. Might have something to sing about now.” – commentator on the international feed

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