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SOCHI, Russia – Darya Domracheva was offered the chance to carry the Belarussian flag in the Sochi Olympics’ opening ceremonies last week.
The biathlete turned it down, reasoning that the trip from her residence in the mountains to the Olympic stadium would have disrupted her preparation.
After blowing away the field in Tuesday’s pursuit race, Domracheva got to carry Belarus’s red and green colors after all, as she cruised down the homestretch far ahead of her competition.
“I thought it would be much better if I could cross the finish line with my flag,” she said in a press conference afterwards. “And I did that today.”
The gold was Domracheva’s second Olympic medal, after she won a bronze in the 15-kilometer individual race in Vancouver four years ago.
Norway’s Tora Berger won that race. But on Tuesday, Domracheva relegated her to second place, nearly 40 seconds behind.
Slovenia’s Teja Gregorin was third, another five seconds back.
Domracheva started the 10-kilometer pursuit in ninth place, 30 seconds behind the winner of Slovenian biathlete Anastasiya Kuzmina, who had won Sunday’s pursuit.
Both women hit all five targets on their first trip into the range, two kilometers into the race.
By the time they came back for their second round, another two kilometers into the race, Domracheva had caught up, thanks to her speed on skis—she was the second-fastest of all 55 women in the race.
When Kuzmina missed a target, and Domracheva shot clean, the race was essentially over, even after she notched her own miss in the last shooting stage.
“I wasn’t scared,” she said in a press conference afterward. “I was confident that my shooting range results would be very good.”
Afterwards, Berger acknowledged how impressive Domracheva had been.
“Darya was very strong today,” she said. “So, I think even if I shoot clean, I could not beat her.”
Domracheva’s gold was only the second ever for Belarus at the Winter Olympics.
The country’s fans had an impressive turnout Tuesday, watching athletes who command enough attention that just last weekend they had a “tea-drinking session” with Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.
With two more individual events at the Olympics, Domracheva could come away from the Olympics with even more medals, and she stressed Tuesday that she would keep her focus.
“I still have some hopes for the next races,” she said. “I want everybody to know that the Olympics is not finished for me.”
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.