Whistler, British Columbia – Olympic biathlon racing comes to a close today with the final event of the 2010 Olympic Games, the men’s 4×7.5km relay.
More so than any other event, good shooting is critical to success in the relay, and strong performances are needed form all four athletes.
In the biathlon relay, each skier gets three extra shots per shooting stage. This means a biathlete has eight bullets to hit five targets. The catch, however, is that those extra three are not in the clip, and need to be loaded manually. This takes precious seconds. If all targets have not been hit after eight shots, penalty laps are skied.
Generally, if a team has a skier doing laps, they are out of medal contention. In the women’s relay, France was an impressive exception to this rule. Marie Dorin seemingly took France out of the medal hunt with five misses and two penalty laps in peone shooting on the third leg. But the French women had amzing skis, and were posting very fast course times. They came back to take the silver.
They were the only team to finish in the top-11 to have even one penalty lap, let alone two.
It would be surprising to see a similar performance in today’s men’s race.
Norway starts in bib 1, but will be hard pressed to hold that position. It has been a rocky Olympics for the Norwegians, with Ole EInar Bjorndalen all over the map. Emil Svendsen is the real deal, but 40-year-old Halvard Hanavold and 21-year-old Tarjei Boe skiing the first two legs, will find it difficult to keep the team in contention. If they do, and Bjorndalen the legend shows up, a medal is a possibility.
The favorites come down to a roll of the dice between Austria, Russia, and France, with Germany as a dark horse.
France has two medalists, Vincent Jay and Martin Fourcade. Fourcade will need to do better than the three misses he overcame in the mass start, and his brother Simon, on the third leg will need to be on his game.
Austria is a good bet for a medal, and the gold medal favorite. With four skiers capable of top-10 finishes, they are very deep. Ski speed is rarely on issue with these guys, so if they hit their targets, they will be tough to beat.
The Russians won the World Championship relay in 2007 and 2008, but were dethroned by Norway last year in Korea. Led by Evgeny Ustyugov, the gold medalist in the mass start, they look to match the performance by the women’s team.
The US had high hopes for the relay entering the Games, but poor results over the last two weeks have lowered expectations. The team has finished as high as 5th on the World Cup, but has been plagued by inconsistency. Jay Hakkinen has been atrocious in Whistler, and with the exception of Jeremy Teela’s 9th in the weather-impacted sprint, results across the board have been disappointing.
Teela has been sick, and Tim Burke, a medal contender coming, has struggled on the range. His best result an 18th in the mass start.
Canada will field a team, racing athletes other than Jean Phillipe LeGuellec for the first time during the games. They are not expected to vie for a top spot.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.