Good things come to those who wait, and the fog lifted just enough for this Olympic highlight — Emil Hegle Svendsen holding off rival Martin Fourcade, aiming for his third gold of the Games, by a foot. If that.
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, bidding to be the first athlete to win 13 Winter Olympic medals, charged into contention after missing two early shots but shot himself right out of it with four big misses at the final stop.
Event: Men’s mass start (15k)
Medalists: Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway), Martin Fourcade (France), Ondrej Moravec (Czech Republic)
SportsMyriad projections: Martin Fourcade (France), Tarjei Boe (Norway), Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway)
How U.S. fared: Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey qualified for the 30-skier field, but they missed two shots at the first stage and settled near the back. Burke missed twice more at the first standing stage and finished 21st. Bailey missed five total and took 23rd. The two Americans sandwiched Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.
What happened: Several favorites fell behind early, missing shots through the snow. Martin Fourcade missed his first shot. Dominik Landertinger missed one, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen missed two. Russia’s Anton Shipulin took the early lead, with Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen leading a group just a couple of seconds behind.
Off to the second shoot — Russian’s Shipulin and Evgeny Garanichev shot quickly, but each of them missed once. That left Svendsen in first followed by two athletes who have already surprised in these Games — Canada’s J.P. Le Guellec and France’s Jean Guillaume Beatrix. The only others to shoot clean and stay in the lead pack were the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Moravec and Germany’s Erik Lesser. Also, Russia’s Evgeny Ustyugov was clean at the range but not clean on the course, recovering from an early slip and skiing back with those who had missed at least once.
Over the third leg, the five-man lead pack wasn’t able to put any distance on the chasers, who cut within 15 seconds.
Third shoot: Svendsen shot quickly and cleanly. Moravec was soon out behind him. Le Guellec took his time on the range but was clean.
But by this point, those who had missed early were charging back. Fourcade and Bjoerndalen shot ahead of Le Guellec to chase Svendsen and Moravec.
This group of four came up for the tense final shoot from the nerve-wracking standing position. No pressure.
Fourcade shot first and knocked down two targets. Bjoerndalen missed two. Then two more. Fourcade knocked down the rest of the targets and took off quickly. Moravec and Svendsen were also clean, going 20-for-20, and raced out four seconds behind. Those would be your likely medalists — Slovenia’s Jakov Fak and Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe were nearly 30 seconds back. Boe did a full-fledged snow plow on the last lap, leaving Fak alone in fourth and hoping one of the top three would crack or crash.
Svendsen immediately served notice that he was here for gold, climbing up to Fourcade’s back. Svendsen briefly took the lead but let Fourcade take it back. Fourcade powered back into the lead, but Svendsen looked content to ride behind him until the last turn, where the Norwegian made his move and pulled ahead.
But did Svendsen celebrate too soon? Fourcade charged just behind him. In the last five meters, Fourcade moved over to Svendsen’s left and hurled himself over the line. It was a photo finish, with Svendsen finishing just a boot tip in first. The official margin of victory after 15k of racing: 0.0 seconds.
Moravec was unchallenged for third, then Fak for fourth. Two Canadians finished in the top 10 — Brendan Green ninth, Le Guellec 10th.