Whistler, British Columbia – As the second starter in the women’s individual 15km, Tora Berger (NOR) had a long wait to see if her 1st place time would hold up, and when her last competitor crossed the line, the tears of joy started flowing.
“It was very hard to wait, not a good time, but I had no time to think because there were so many interviews. But then I was very happy – they were good tears.”
Berger now has the distinction of winning the 100th Gold Medal in Norwegian Winter Olympic history. She finsihed 20.7 seconds ahead of Elena Khrustaleva (KAZ), who also made history, becoming the first Kazakh biathletes to win an Olympic medal.
Darya Domracheva (BLR) was 3rd, less than eight seconds behind Khrustaleva, becoming just the 2nd Belorussian Winter Olympic medal winner.
Berger, showed her usual strong skiing, but it was her quick shooting that gave her the victory. She hit the first 19 targets of the race, cleaning the first three shooting stages, before missing her final shot of the day in the final standing stage. In a tight battle with Domracheva and Khrustaleva, as well as Germans Kati Wilhelm and Andrea Henkel and Weronika Novakowska (POL).
“I though I lost a medal when I missed that last shot,” Berger said. “I though my chance to win was going, but I did a good job in the last ski loop and I heard that many of the other athletes were missing, so I just had to go for it.”
Berger posted the 3rd fastest ski time of the day, 10 seconds slower than pursuit gold medallist Magdalena Neuner (GER), who finished 10th. Neuner was foiled by her three misses. In the individual format, athetes do not ski penalty laps, but are instead penalized a full minute for each miss, increasing the importance of shooting. I standard penalty lap usually takes roughly 25 seconds.
Domracheva actually skied faster than Berger, and match her one miss on the range, but Berger’s total time on the range was 34 seconds better, creating the margin of victory. Not only do you have to shoot well and ski fast, you have to shoot fast as well.
Domracheva described the race as a “struggle.” But with herself, not with her competitors. “The race was a struggle – a lot of striving. But struggle with myself, not with anyone else, struggling with the distance, struggling with the distance.”
At the finish she collapsed in prayer position, and appeared to be giving thanks, but said afterward, she wasn’t thinking anything, just suffering from her exertion.
Domracheva also said she never thinks about medal or results before the race – she focuses on preparation, but the night before the race she received an email from a friend telling her he dreamed she would win the bronze. “I am very excited that this dream turned out to be true.”
For the first half of the race Henkel challenged Berger. Starting at bib 26, she knew exactly where she needed to be. But she missed once in the second prone stage, and again the first standing stage. That was her undoing, and she was unable to make up the time on the course. Her teammate Wilhelm also started well. The veteran ended with just a single miss, but like Henkel was not fast enough – she ended up 4th 36 seconds off the podium, and just .2 seconds ahead of Novakowska.
Khrustaleva was the only skier in the top-7 to shoot clean. She also made up 44 seconds on Berger in the range.
Swedish star Helena Jonsson, and a pre-race favorite, continued her Olympic struggles. She finished 49th, missing four shots and posting just the 29th fastest ski team. She was also very slow on the range.
In biathlon, there is nowhere to hide form an off day. Poor shooting will relegate a top skier to the back of the pack. Jonsson was joinded by France’s Sandrine Bailly, who was back in 52nd.
Canada was led by Megan Tandy in 50th, just behind Jonsson. Tandy missed three shots. She was followed by Megan Imrie in 62nd, Zina Kocher in 72nd, and Rosanna Crawford in 76th.
Kocher, Canada’s top hope for a medal fell apart in the the last standing stage. After the third shooting stage she was in an excellent 15th place, with just a single miss. But she missed all her targets in the final standing and was suddenly back in 73rd. Overall Canada struggled on the range with both Imrie and Crawford accruing four penalties each.
Sarah Studebaker (USA), the first started set the tone for the US, missing just a single shot and finishing a career-best 34th. Her teammate Lanny Barnes topped her, shooting clean and taking 23rd on the day.
Laura Spector and Haley Johnson also raced for the US, finsihing 65th and 66th respectively in the 86 woman field. Spector, who has struggled on the range over the past month, missed jsut two shots, but did not ski her best. Johnson had four misses and was just .1 seconds behind her teammate.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.