A thrilling final leg in the last biathlon event of these Olympics saw Russia pull away for gold in front of a raucous home crowd, while Ole Einar Bjoerndalen could only watch as Emil Hegle Svendsen’s wayward shooting cost him a final medal for the collection.
Event: Men’s 4×7.5k relay
Medalists: Russia, Germany, Austria
SportsMyriad projections: Russia, Norway, France
How U.S. fared: Bad news at the start — Tim Burke, the American with the best World Cup track record — was ill and did not compete.
Lowell Bailey went out fast, then took his time on the first shooting stage to leave the range in ninth. He was one of a handful of athletes to shoot cleanly at both stages in the first leg, heading back out on the ski course in fifth place. He stuck with Russia and handed off in fourth place, just a second off the podium.
Russell Currier stuck with Russia through his first lap but missed six times on the range. That sent him away on three penalty loops. He came into the range 11.9 seconds off the lead and left 1:51.0 behind in 17th place. He missed only two in his next stage and climbed back up to 15th.
Sean Doherty, only 18, missed three shots to slip to 16th. The youngster shot cleanly in the second stage and hung around in 15th.
Leif Nordgren had the anchor leg and was all alone — about a minute behind Switzerland and 45 seconds ahead of Kazakhstan. He missed twice on prone and twice more standing, giving up a good bit of time while Bulgaria shifted ahead of Kazakhstan behind him. Bulgaria’s Krasimir Anev caught him and beat him to the finish by 0.7 seconds. The USA finished 16th — the three teams behind them were lapped.
What happened: Strange start — 15 of the 19 skiers shot cleanly at the prone stage, with Austria and Russia each missing one to fall well down the standings. Canada’s J.P. Le Guellec was quickly through the range and took the lead halfway through the first leg. He flew into the range for the second shooting stage with the lead, but he missed four straight shots to incur one penalty loop.
That second stage restored order — Norway (Tarjei Boe), Germany (Erik Lesser) and France (Alexis Boeuf) shot cleanly and took off in the first three spots. Then it was Slovakia and the USA. Boe and Lesser broke away from the pack, while Russia (Alexey Volkov) and Austria (Christoph Sumann) moved up into it despite two misses. Boe got a 10-second gap on Lesser before the exchange, while Volkov moved into third just a second ahead of the USA’s Lowell Bailey.
The younger Boe, Johannes Thingnes, missed one shot in his first stage but still stuck with Germany’s Daniel Boehm. Russia’s Evgeny Ustyugov pulled within 10 seconds. A pack of seven emerged 15 seconds behind Ustyugov.
Boe shot cleanly at the standing stage to take the lead from Boehm, who missed once. Slovenia’s Jakov Fak was making a move to chase Ustyugov.
And so Boe handed to off a man twice his age — Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, looking to add to his Olympic record with a 14th career medal and break a tie with Norwegian cross-country great Bjoern Daehlie by winning his ninth career gold. He led by 20 seconds over Germany’s Arnd Peiffer, with Russia’s Dmitry Malyshko and Slovenia’s Klemen Bauer close behind.
Bjoerndalen, as usual, shot quickly on the range. And this time he shot cleanly. Malyshko, Peiffer and Austria’s Simon Eder also cleared the targets to form a little pack about 20 seconds behind.
With little change, Bjoerndalen came into the range for the last time as an Olympic athlete. Five shots, all perfect, in a ridiculous 20 seconds. Peiffer was also quick and clean to get a gap on Malyshko, who missed once. Eder missed twice and barely kept Austria’s lead for fourth over Slovenia’s Bauer. The resilient Canadians, meanwhile, were hanging in for sixth, within a minute of the lead and about 30 seconds of the podium as Brendan Green went for his last lap. Behind him, Simon Desthieux was trying to keep it close for France before handing off to elite closer Martin Fourcade.
Peiffer, though, wasn’t conceding anything. He whittled away Bjoerndalen’s lead to a mere two seconds. The anchors: gold medalist Emil Hegle Svendsen for Norway, Simon Schempp for Germany. Schempp was third on the current World Cup season.
And the others weren’t out of it. Russia handed off a 16.6-second gap to Anton Shipulin. Slovenia’s 38-year-old Janez Maric was 18.0 seconds back. Austria had Dominik Landertinger just 18.6 seconds back. And could Fourcade pull back 1:07.7 for France if others faltered?
It just got closer. Svendsen and Schempp each missed one, only the second miss for each team on the day. Shipulin missed twice but got through quickly. Landertinger missed one but also joined the fray. After seven shooting stages, we had four countries within 6 seconds: Norway, Germany, Russia, Austria. The one country out of the mix — France, which saw Fourcade pull back a lot of time on the first lap but give it back with a couple of misses on the range.
The top four raised their guns almost simultaneously. Svendsen missed his first. Langertinger missed his third. Svendsen missed again as Schempp and Shipulin left the range. Langertinger got out as Svendsen missed again. And Svendsen missed a fourth, going to the penalty loop and wiping out Bjoerndalen’s chances of a final Olympic medal.
Italy’s Lukas Hofer missed twice but shot quickly, moving within range of Norway’s Svendsen for fourth. Everyone else fell apart on the range.
But the focus was up front, with Shipulin and Schempp dueling while Landertinger gave chase. Shipulin led Schempp into the stadium, made the final turn and took off. The Russian crowd roared as Shipulin pulled up at the finish, comfortably ahead of the German. Landertinger soon followed to seal bronze for Austria, with Svendsen and the others nowhere in sight.