Magdalena Neuner (GER) left the door open in the women’s 10k pursuit. But Anastasia Kuzmina (SVK) couldn’t shut it.
When a penalty by Neuner in the final shooting stage left Kuzmina trailing by just six seconds, the Slovakian had a chance to reel in the leader over the final two k loop. But Neuner put the hammer down, steadily pulling away to win her second medal in three days. After hitting all 20 shots, Marie Laure Brunet (FRA) was third, moving up from sixth.
Leading Kuzmina by 25 seconds coming into last shooting stage, Neuner could have essentially ended the race by shooting clean. She hit her first four targets, but the pressure got to her on the last one.
Kuzmina skied into the range in time to see Neuner’s miss, and she took advantage, hitting all five of her shots in rapid succession. The two left the range almost together, and it looked like the stage was set for a head-to-head battle. But Neuner never gave it a chance, pulling away from Kuzmina immediately to win by a comfortable margin.
It was a duel between those two from the beginning, as Kuzmina began with a negligible two-second advantage over the Slovakian. Competitors set out on course today with a handicaps based on how far back they were in Saturday’s sprint.
In the first of four shooting stages, the two women matched each other round for round, skiing into the range together and hitting all five targets in synch.
They were still glued to one another after the second lap, and for the first three shots, nothing changed. But then Kuzmina missed, forcing her to ski a penalty loop that put her 25 seconds behind. She couldn’t take advantage of a mistake by Neuner in the third stage, either—both ended up missing one more shot.
In dramatic final round, Neuner said that she came into the range relaxed despite past struggles in the past with her shooting. She remained so as she hit her first four shots, but then let the pressure get to her for the last one. She said afterwards that she let herself start thinking about gold.
“The last shot, I was a little bit nervous,” she said. “It was a mistake.”
But it didn’t matter, because Kuzmina was done—in the post-race press conference, she said she knew that her legs were too tired to do anything in the final lap, even as she trailed by just a few seconds.
With her gold medal in the 7.5 k sprint on Saturday, she said that she felt even more pressure to repeat the performance—not less because she’d already won a medal. She wasn’t complaining about silver, though, pumping her arms as she crossed the finish.
After struggling with illness earlier in the season, Meghan Tandy (CAN) had a strong performance today as the top North American finisher in 36th. She had a very strong final sprint to take second out of her pack of five, aided by what looked like a strong pair of skis.
“It’s just great to feel that I’m approaching…that best-performance-of-the-season-feeling again,” she said.
Sara Studebaker was the only American in the race, and she dropped just one spot to go from 45th to 46th place. She shot well, but said that she felt a little bit flat for the skis.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.