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SOCHI, Russia — Dasha Domracheva had an inkling things were going according to plan as she rounded the biathlon loop at the Laura Olympic Center five times on Friday night.
For starters, the Belarusian gold medalist from Tuesday’s pursuit had opened with flawless shooting in prone, taking the lead over the 12 women who started ahead of her in the biathlon 15-kilometer individual start.
Three others challenged her through the first stage — Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen, Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, and Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina — with clean shooting and fast skiing. Three kilometers later, Domracheva suffered a one-minute penalty in the first standing, but it wasn’t a big deal; even with the added time she was still within 11.8 seconds of the lead.
By the third lap, the 27-year-old Domracheva started to turn it on, clocking the fastest ski times from there on out and shooting clean for the remainder of the race. At times she was minutes ahead, and by the finish, she had topped Olga Zaitseva, Russia’s early leader by 3:47.3 minutes in 43:19.6.
Then, she waited, and as competitors like Makarainen completed their races, she gradually realized the second gold was hers. Makarainen was 2:43 behind with three penalties, Soukalova missed one on each standing to finish nearly two minutes back, and Kuzmina had three penalties in the last stage that took her out of contention.
Switzerland’s Selina Gasparin cleaned for the first time in her career, as did Nadezhda Skardino, also from Belarus. Skardino finished second, 1:38.2 behind Domracheva, for the time being. Domracheva waited long enough to watch her come into the final stretch, then grabbed her things and ran inside to get changed.
The 52-degree evening had finished with temperatures around 48 degrees Fahrenheit (the warmest of the 2014 Games yet), and the Olympic champion was getting cold.
“It was amazing because I got information on the track that I’m in the lead and Nadezhda [was] in second,” Domracheva said in a post-race press conference. “I tried to wait for her after the finish line, but I got a little bit frozen at the end of the race.
The two met up in the changing area and press mixed zone after the race. Gasparin’s faster ski time ultimately bumped Skardino to third by 22.7 seconds, and the Swiss skier earned her country’s first-ever biathlon medal with silver. Skardino retained her spot on the podium in third — another first for Belarus with two athletes winning medals in the same event at the Winter Olympics.
And Domracheva became the first Belarus athlete to win two gold medals at the same Winter Games.
“I cannot say it was an easier race for me,” Domracheva said, referring to her 37.6-second win in the preceding pursuit. “In a few loops I was together with Soukalova and she followed me quite easy. I tried to do everything. That was fighting today. On some parts of the track I was so tired and after the downhills, I sit …. almost without any power, but you need to recover on the downhills and be clever coming into the shooting range.”
That was where Domracheva made the difference. Clean shooting — or as close to it as possible — is essential in an individual start, with each penalty adding a minute to an athlete’s total time.
Even with a penalty, Domracheva won by a minute and 15.7 seconds, but mostly because she skied the fastest third, fourth and fifth loops, and took her time in the range. Soukalova placed fourth with two misses, 1:57.5 behind the winner.
“Today … the course was harder and the loop was more difficult in terms of relief,” Domracheva said, comparing the 15 k individual to the 10 k pursuit.
“But both of them I cherish them and value them very much,” she said of her two medals. “With this one I just confirmed that I was an Olympic champion, so that was very important.”
From Rural Training to Olympic Medal
The oldest of three sisters, Gasparin, 29, followed the lead of middle child Elisa, who captured eighth at the Olympics in last Saturday’s sprint. It was by far a career best and first international top 10 for the 22-year-old Elisa.
On Thursday, Selina Gasparin continued the family’s good showing by not only shooting perfectly for the first time in her career, but becoming the first Swiss biathlete to medal at the Olympics.
Two months ago, she became her country’s first biathlete to win a World Cup. That’s when she started to dream big, specifically for Sochi.
“I have never won a medal in my whole life, no junior championship or European championship, nothing,” she said.
Growing up in a rural part of southeast Switzerland, the Upper Engadin region, Gasparin said she followed the lead of Elisa, who tried biathlon first with a friend. Once she started training with the national team, Gasparin realized she needed to train at home where “there is nothing,” she said.
“I had to ask the farmer if I could put some targets for shooting,” she said.
She also had to find some suitable paved roads for rollerskiing. “It took me almost ten years now to build it all up. It was also motivating to be the first one in World Championships and the first woman ever in Olympic Games in Vancouver, first World Cup win … now it’s like the first medal ever for Switzerland. We have no world championship medal so for me it’s really crazy.”
With silver in hand, she’s excited to go home.
“I [said] that if I come home with a medal, I want every Swiss to know what biathlon is,” she said. “Because some thought it was like running or cycling or something.”
Gasparin was also excited to find success on the same day as Swiss cross-country skier Dario Cologna, who won the men’s 15 k classic individual start Friday afternoon. Cologna hails from Vail Müstair, less than an hour drive from Gasparin’s hometown of Samedan. Both speak the regional language of Romansh.
“It’s a very special day for [people] of my language,” she said. “We are all from a small area in Switzerland. It’s only about point-five percent of the population that speaks Romansh. It’s kind of like a secret language.”
Russian-Born Skardino Makes Belarus History
After starting out as a cross-country skier on St. Petersburg junior team, Skardino, 28, switched to biathlon at age 20 when she was just about to retire from the sport.
“The junior coach suggested I try biathlon and I liked that very much,” she said through a translator. “I thought of finishing my career, but once I started shooting I liked it … then it was not opting for Belarus, but it was opting for biathlon. The Belarus national team suggested that I represent Belarus so I tried that and I liked that.”
She never anticipated to become a Belarus citizen, it just worked out that way. On Friday, she was happy it did as she made history with Domracheva.
“It was my dream to be on the same to be on the podium with Daria and I’m very glad that it came true,” she said.
Domracheva said the team’s depth is a testament to their success.
“Now you see that Belarus is a really strong team,” she said. “Only with a good team around you can achieve these results.”
The second gold wasn’t quite as emotional for the winner, but that’s because she was prepared.
“This was my dream and helped me very much to be less emotional after,” she said. “I got very emotional after I won the first medal. I tried to control my emotions to be a new Daria … to compete, to perform and to enjoy the work that I love.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.