Sochi recap: Biathlon, mixed relay

Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is officially the Olympic record-holder for most medals in winter. He shot cleanly and put Norway well out in front of a new event, biathlon’s mixed relay, to claim his 13th medal.

Relay format: Shooters carry spare bullets in addition to the usual clips of five. They can use three spares per shooting stage, but it takes time to load them individually. Miss more than three, and they’re off to the penalty loop for each target that’s still standing.

Date: 19-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Mixed relay

Medalists: Norway, Czech Republic, Italy

SportsMyriad projections: Norway, Russia, Czech Republic

How U.S. fared: Susan Dunklee has been aggressive throughout the Games, and she went out hard again this time. She missed once at the first stage and lost some time, sliding to 10th, but she charged back to fifth by the next stage. Another miss, but she still left the range just behind Norwegian great Tora Berger. They picked off a couple of skiers in the last lap, and Dunklee was a close fourth at the handoff.

That left Hannah Dreissigacker in lofty company, just behind medalists Gabriela Soukalova (Czech Republic) and Tiril Eckhoff (Norway). But it all went wrong at the first shooting stage, where Dreissigacker missed four shots, costing her not just the time of reloading three bullets but one trip to the penalty loop. She missed just once at the standing shoot and was 10th at the handoff.

Tim Burke missed three in prone and dropped to 12th place, but he missed only once in standing while others misfired. He handed off to Lowell Bailey in ninth place.

Bailey was clean through the first stage but missed three in the standing. His shooting sewed up a top-10 finish for the USA, with Austria in sight in ninth. Bailey pulled away, getting some screen time as he finished with exhaustion all over his face.

What happened: Tora Berger had issues (two misses) on the standing shoot, letting a group of four get 15 seconds ahead of her. No matter — she quickly hauled them back in and handed off in first place. Then Italy, the Czech Republic and the USA.

Next, it was Soukalova’s turn to struggle with the rifle, missing three shots. Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff hit all five to head out quickly, with Italy’s Karin Oberhofer just behind. The Czech athlete earned it back on the second lap, though, racing past Oberhofer. Then Soukalova atoned on the range, going five-for-five. So did Eckhoff, who left the range five seconds ahead of Soukalova.

As they handed off to the men, Soukalova forged ahead of Eckhoff. The Czech Republic’s Jaroslav Soukup took off with The Man Himself, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, right on his tail. Italy was nearly 20 seconds back, Poland near 50 seconds back. Biathlon powers Germany, Russia and France were well back.

And Bjoerndalen, as he so often does, ripped through the first shooting stage quickly. This time, he hit all five. Soukup took his time and left 11.7 seconds later. Then Italy’s Dominik Windisch and Slovakia’s Pavol Hurajt, who shot cleanly.

Bjoerndalen once again opted for speed in the standing stage,and he once again took down all five. Soukup’s deficit grew to 36.7.

So the anchor legs were cast into their positions with big gaps. Emil Hegle Svendsen, who held onto gold in the mass start despite celebrating too soon, would take the last lap for Norway. The Czech Republic’s Ondrej Moravec was 43.1 seconds back. Italy’s Lukas Hofer was 1:14.1 back. Then another 30 seconds to Germany’s Simon Schempp. France had the great Martin Fourcade on the anchor leg, but he was 2:09.7 out of gold and more than a minute off the podium.

The top seven anchor skiers shot cleanly at the prone stage. Fourcade had reeled in Slovakia to stand fifth, but nothing else had changed.

Svendsen made sure nothing would change at the top. He shot quickly, a daring move, but he hit all five. He turned to salute the crowd and left the range just as Moravec came in. The Czech athlete missed one but kept a solid lead over Italy’s Hofer. Then the Italian shot cleanly, and the medals were pretty well set.

Norway had dominated in every sense. They missed only twice on the range, both on Berger’s second shoot. Svendsen had plenty of time to celebrate as he crossed the line, setting off the first mixed-gender celebration in an Olympic biathlon relay.

Full results

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