Olympic sports writing: 2004-2015

Selected features and interviews, plus coverage from several Olympics:


Sochi 2014

London 2012 (all Bleacher Report unless noted)

Vancouver 2010: Nordic sports and biathlon (all USA TODAY)

Beijing 2008: Everything, especially soccer (all USA TODAY)

Torino 2006 (USA TODAY)

Athlete interviews (all USA TODAY)

Monday Myriad, March 24: Overseas networking

As we bid farewell to winter sports for the year, some athletes are wrapping club seasons all over the place.

People who read this blog probably know all about soccer and maybe basketball. But how about volleyball? Dozens of U.S. athletes are overseas — many of them making money that soccer players are not.

An NYT story on overseas volleyball introduced me to a neat site helping athletes share information and support. Athletes Abroad is a nice simple WordPress site that lets athletes connect and share stories, with other athletes and with fans. And yes, they’ve already spoken with the ubiquitous Yael Averbuch.

Best and worst from the week, mostly overseas …

Best recent success for a new rugby player: Kelly Whiteside catches up with bobsled medalist Elana Meyers as she tries her feet at rugby. A lot of running is involved.

Sharpest commentary: Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler calls out Sochi for its environmental impact, particularly on birds, salmon, trout and bears.

Best speedskater: The Netherlands’ Ireen Wüst confirms it yet again, winning three of the four distances at the World Allround Championships. (Yes, she won the overall title.)

Best moguls skier: Hannah Kearney, for the fourth straight season, this time in dramatic fashion.

Biggest surprise: Switzerland beat Canada to win the women’s curling world title in a match that swung wildly in the eighth end, when Rachel Homan seemed to have hit a brilliant shot but watched her shooter spin away from the center back toward the front of the house. Switzerland’s Binia Feltscher converted her shot for three, then stole three when Homan missed a difficult shot in the ninth.

Best farewell: We biathlon fans will miss you, Andrea Henkel and Tora Berger.

Best U.S. finish:

Closest finish: 

Best name to watch for 2016: Triathlete Katie Hursey was second in her first race of the season, then first this weekend.

Worst news: No more biathlon to watch this season. And yet it might snow at my house. That’s wrong.

Sochi recap: Biathlon, men’s relay

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.

Date: 22-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

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.

Full results

Sochi recap: Biathlon, women’s relay

Wild day in Olympic biathlon, with Germany and France out of contention in the first leg while Canada and the USA were in the top five with one leg to go. And then an inspiring winner — Ukraine, torn apart by unrest at home, came together for a strong win.

Date: 21-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Women’s relay

Medalists: Ukraine, Russia, Norway

SportsMyriad projections: Norway, Germany, Russia


How U.S. fared: Susan Dunklee is the story of the Games for the USA out at the Nordic venues. She was once again absolutely fearless, taking off ahead of the contenders. She needed two extra shots in the prone shooting and one standings, sticking close to the leaders and handing off in fourth place, just 12.9 seconds back.

Hannah Dreissigacker, still a relative newcomer to biathlon, needed three extra shots at each stage but avoided the penalty loop and skied quickly. She was in sixth, 58.2 seconds back, at the exchange.

Sara Studebaker shot the lights out. She cleaned all 10 shots and stuck with the Czech Republic and Switzerland to contend for fifth place. At the exchange, she was indeed in fifth.

Annalies Cook stayed in that group through the first lap. Two missed shots let the Czech Republic get away, but she stayed ahead of Switzerland and the charging Italian team. Two more misses let the favorites pass, but she came across in seventh, the best result for the U.S. women in this event.

What happened: Colder but not really better. We had rain and snow, and Chad Salmela said the new snow would retain a bit of the rain to make a bit of slush on top of the solid man-made snow.

Maybe that accounted for anomalies that took out two of the contenders. Germany’s Franziska Preuss, a 19-year-old who got the nod ahead of Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, had some sort of equipment problem on the first lap, possibly from a fall not seen on camera. She came into the shooting range after nearly everyone else had gone, then needed to blow snow out of her rifle to shoot. She used three extra shots and hit the checkpoint nearly two minutes down.

Then the cameras found France’s Marie-Laure Brunet face down in the snow with medical crews racing to her aid. NBC’s reporters later said she had felt dizzy and collapsed.


Russia and Ukraine set the pace early. Then Italy’s Dorothea Wierer flew past them to lead at the first exchange.


Norway had a rough first leg, sitting 50.8 seconds back in ninth place. Tiril Eckhoff erased half of that deficit, pulling Norway into third past Russia’s Olga Zaitseva.

The developing story was Ukraine. The war-torn country would have something to cheer, with Vita Semerenko putting them in contention with her first leg and Juliya Dzhyma shooting cleanly to take the lead when she handed off to the other Semerenko twin, Valj.

At the halfway point, the Czech Republic was second but had just sent out its best athlete, Gabriela Soukalova. Then Norway, Russia and surprising Canada.

Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko came into the range first. She hesitated twice but went five-for-five. So did Russia’s Ekaterina Shumilova and Norway’s Ann Kristin Aafedt Flatland, each of whom left a little more than 40 seconds behind Semerenko. Next was a shocker: Canada’s Megan Heinicke. The Czech Republic challenge had faded.

Semerenko struggled on the standing shoot. She missed three of her initial five shots. She took plenty of time before each of her extra shots but managed to get out without a penalty loop. Shumilova made the crowd cheer by clearing her shots and pulling through 23.4 seconds behind. Then Flatland a couple of seconds later. And Heinicke once again shot cleanly, keeping a 30-second edge on the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the USA.

Ukraine had an excellent anchor lined up — Olena Pidrushna, the reigning print world champion. She took the course with a 28.4-second lead over Norway, which sent out the great Tora Berger. Russia, right on Norway’s tail, had Olympic sprint silver medalist, Olga Vilukhina. Canada was less than 20 seconds behind them, improbably poised to swipe a medal if the favorites faltered.

Pidrushna barely missed her second shot but cleaned it quickly with her first extra shot. Canada’s Zina Kocher zipped around the first lap and came into the range in second place, but Vilukhina and Berger shot quickly to get away from her. Kocher missed twice and dropped 25 seconds behind the third-place Berger.

Ukraine’s lead was down to 6.7 seconds, and Pidrushna could see Vilukhina come in alongside her. But Pidrushna mowed down all five targets. Vilukhina missed once and left the range 11.1 seconds back. Berger had an opportunity but also missed once, stumbling out of the range 25.1 seconds back.

The North Americans finally faltered. Canada’s Kocher only knocked down three targets with her eight shots, consigned her to two penalty loops. The USA’s Cook missed twice, falling behind two stars — Italy’s Karin Oberhofer and Belarus’s Darya Domracheva.

The three medalists were set — the Czech Republic was a distant fourth — but the order was still in doubt. The crowd roared for Vilukhina to catch Pidrushna, but the Ukrainian would not be caught. And Ukraine flags flew proudly as Pidrushna crossed the line. Berger’s challenge faded in the last kilometer, and Vilukhina made it across for second. The Czech Republic was fourth, while the great Domracheva pulled Belarus into fifth. Then Italy, then the USA, then Canada in eighth. Germany, which has never not medaled in this event, finished 11th.

Full results


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

Sochi recap: Biathlon, men’s mass start

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.

Date: 18-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

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.

Full results

Sochi recap: Biathlon, women’s mass start

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.

Date: 17-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

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.

Full results

Sochi non-recap: Biathlon, men’s mass start

We’ll try again tomorrow at 1 a.m. ET.

Date: 16-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Men’s mass start (15k)

Medalists: None

SportsMyriad projections: Still Martin Fourcade (France), Tarjei Boe (Norway), Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway)

How U.S. fared: They didn’t.

What happened: Fog.

Sochi recap: Biathlon, women’s individual

Olympic pressure is especially tough in this race, where each missed shot costs an athlete one minute. Several contenders shot themselves right out of the race. But Darya Domracheva showed her class, missing just once and skiing very well as Belarus took two medals.

Date: 14-Feb

Sport: Biathlon

Event: Women’s individual (15k)

Medalists: Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Selina Gasparin (Switzerland), Nadezhda Skardino (Belarus)

SportsMyriad projections: Tora Berger (Norway), Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Andrea Henkel (Germany)

How U.S. fared: The perpetually smiling Susan Dunklee went out faster than some of the contenders around her but missed the last of her prone shots. She missed four more along the way and wouldn’t repeat her terrific results from the sprint and pursuit, finishing 34th.

The surprise was Hannah Dreissigacker, the inexperienced athlete who joined former Dartmouth colleagues Dunklee and Sara Studebaker on this team. Her best World Cup result so far is 56th. She finished 23rd, missing just two shots.

Studebaker missed four and finished 55th. Lanny Barnes, who made it on the team when twin sister Tracy gave up her spot, missed three and finished 64th.

What happened: Most of the contenders had early starting positions, and Darya Domracheva quickly established herself as the one to beat. The Belarussian took bronze in this event in 2010 and won the pursuit earlier in the week. She missed once on her second stage but was still well in front.

At the fourth shoot, Domracheva seemed to be hesitating in her unusual routine of starting on the middle target, going left, then coming back to the two right targets. But she took down all five of them and had clearly earned a podium place at the very least. She came across the line in 43:19.6, a staggering 3:47.3 ahead of Russia’s Olga Zaitseva.

A fellow Belarussian was establishing herself as a contender. Nadezhda Skardino (no, not Keri Russell’s character on The Americans) has no World Cup or World Championship success to speak of, but when you hit all 20 targets in an individual, you’re a contender. She care across in second, 1:38.2 behind her teammate.

But one more athlete had shot cleanly and was racing well. Switzerland’s Selena Gasparin, who has two sprint wins this season but has never finished higher than fourth in an individual, steadily picked up time through the splits. She trucked into the finish, beating Skardino’s time by 22.5 seconds.

Gabriela Soukalova, one of the favorites, was still in contention despite two misses. But she finished nearly 20 seconds off Skardino’s pace.

Tora Berger missed three targets early and was slower than Domracheva. Andrea Henkel was ill and didn’t start.

A few more athletes shot cleanly: China’s Yan Zhang, Poland’s Krystyna Palka and France’s Marie Laure Brunet. Palka made it to the top 10 (10th). Brunet finished 17th, Yan 46th,

Full results

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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