SOCHI – The Frenchman saw déjà vu in the individual biathlon event. Martin Fourcade took home the gold medal with his second consecutive win on Thursday winning the 20km race. Germany’s Erik Lesser took the silver making it his country’s first in biathlon in the Sochi Games. Russia took home the bronze for their first in the men’s division by Evgeniy Garanichev.
In the longest biathlon of the Winter Olympics, the men’s 20 kilometer individual saw heavy favorite still in the 40-year-old Ole Einar Bjoerndalen as he looked for his Olympic record 13th medal. Losing to France’s Martin Fourcade in the men’s 12.5km race was a first of two chances out the window. His last came when he could take any color medal to make history. The shooting into today’s race becomes the most important as a big lead could be the difference between medaling and not doing so based upon the changes where missing a target cost a full minute.
The race saw Italian Lucas Hoffer in the lead after the first lap as he shot clean through the opening round from the prone position. Bjoerndalen surprisingly missed his second shot taking a big loss in time on gaining the leaders. Austrian Dominik Landertinger went perfect while trying to get back in the mix starting 19 out of the gate.
Defending champion Emil Hegle Svendsen went 10 for 10 after round two to take the lead from Slovenia’s Jakov Fak. Lithuanian Tomas Kaukenas took the lead from Svendsen finishing eight kilometers at 19:55. Bjoerndalen missed for the second time as he again moved farther back as making up time on skis was near impossible. American Lowell Bailey who sat in the top five into the second shooting dropped him back missing his first shot. He did make history for the United States as he took eighth which is the best finish of any American in Olympic history
Fourcade nearly crashed into the wall on the second lap as he is the world reigning champion in the event. “All the mistakes are so costly so you had to be in top for to win,” said the Olympic champion. “I knew I could still win despite that mistake.” He wasn’t the only one to have problems as Svendsen missed a target in the third round with Kaukenas 15 for 15 with a time of 30:03.6 after 15kilometers. Bjoerndalen, behind by more than 70 seconds came into the range for the third round and missed his last shot dropping another chance at a medal. Frenchman Jean Guillaume Beatrix went 5 for 5 for the third time on the night taking the lead from Kaukenas.
After four rounds Garanichev lead with a time of 40:58.4 that sent the home crowd in a complete rush of excitement as he was less than three miles from Olympic gold. He finished in 50:06.2 with Austrian Simon Eder holding second place three seconds back. Svendsen went 19 for 20 and was behind Garanichev after the fourth round. Hoffer nearly had the lead in the fourth time on the range but missed his final shot taking 14th place.
Eder took the lead from the Russia by 10.2 seconds in the fourth round changing the standings once more but ended outside taking fourth place. Fourcade was perfect through all four times at the range and jumped ahead of Eder by eleven and a half seconds. He came to the finish line and took the gold medal by 34.5 seconds. Fourcade’s last major hurdle was Lesser who came to the finish line behind Fourcade to secure the silver medal of a time on 49:43.9.
“I had little hope,” said Lesser. “But I targeted a top 15 finish so it would be inappropriate not to be happy with silver now.” It became Germany’s first medal in biathlon as they continued to stay in the top five in the medal table with ten. The biggest loser of the night was Bjoerndalen who finished 34th making it his worst finish since 1994 when he placed 36th. “It was a heavy day,” said Bjoerndalen. “I was shooting too bad.”