These Olympics belong to Darya Domracheva and Belarus. Norway has been full of disappointment in the Russian mountains but picked up a surprising medal here, while American Susan Dunklee continued to chase U.S. history.
Event: Women’s mass start (12.5k)
Medalists: Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Gabriela Soukalova (Czech Republic), Tiril Eckhoff (Norway)
SportsMyriad projections: Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Tora Berger (Norway), Vita Semerenko (Ukraine)
How U.S. fared: Susan Dunklee, having a breakout performance in the Games, qualified among the elite 30 who could fit at the start and on the range. She made it through the first shoot cleanly with the lead pack and was in the top 10 on the second lap. She missed a shot at the second stage and still shot past several skiers who shot cleanly, pulling into the first standing stage in seventh place.
Once again, Dunklee missed one but stayed in the top 10. And again she missed at the fourth stage but stayed in touch with the higher places.
Finally, Dunklee finished 12th, 1:32.3 behind. That’s the best finish ever for a U.S. women’s biathlete. More to come in 2018?
What happened: A couple of slips early, with Norway’s Tora Berger and Russia’s Olga Zaitseva tumbling. Berger wasn’t far behind at the first shoot and shot cleanly, but she missed one at each of the last two shooting stages and wasn’t a factor.
Meanwhile, Darya Domracheva, the Belarus athlete bidding for her third gold medal of the Games, took off quickly on the second lap and opened a 15-second gap, shooting cleanly on each of the prone stages to maintain the advantage.
Exactly half the field (15 athletes) shot cleanly through two stages. Domracheva was clearly the fastest, with the Czech Republica’s Gabriela Soukalova and Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen.
Domracheva, who has the odd tendency to hit the middle target first and then go left before knocking down the two on the right, hesitated a bit on the last target in her first standing stage. She still knocked it down and went away cleanly. Soukalova was also clean, along with converted cross-country ski veteran Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle of Germany. Makarainen missed one and dropped down to sixth.
Soukalova pulled away on the fourth lap to be all alone in second, while Sachenbacher-Stehle was holding onto third ahead of the charging Makarainen.
Domracheva pulled into the final shooting stage all alone. Her first three were good. Then she went back to the right and put one way south of the target. Off to the penalty loop, but she would have company — Soukalova started shooting as Domracheva was finishing, and she also missed one. They still left the loop comfortably in first and second.
You’d think a biathlon veteran like Makarainen would have the edge in shooting over Sachenbacher-Stehle, who only switched to biathlon two years ago. But the German shot cleanly — 20-for-20 in the competition — and Makarainen missed one.
But flying into the picture was a young, relatively unheralded Norwegian — Tiril Eckhoff. The 23-year-old missed once in the prone shooting and steadily climbed through the field. She left the range in fourth place but raced past Sachenbacher-Stehle.
Domracheva had all day to celebrate down the stretch. Soukalova also was unchallenged, coming in with silver. Then came Eckhoff, pulling ahead to finish one place ahead of Sachenbacher-Stehle.
Makarainen plopped across in seventh. The Semerenko twins were disappointing — Valj in 13th (just behind the USA’s Susan Dunklee), Vita in 17th. Tora Berger was between them in 15th, only missing two shots but never getting up near the leaders. Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina, the top seed, missed five shots and finished 27th.