2018 Winter Olympics (PyeongChang, South Korea): Women’s 4 x 5 k Relay
It wasn’t the wire-to-wire triumph that Norway sometimes achieves, but the pre-race favorites got the job done despite a scare midway through, thanks to dominant skiing by Ragnhild Haga and smooth strength from anchor Marit Bjørgen.
Norway took gold in the 4 x 5 k relay by two seconds over Sweden in 51:24.3 minutes. Olympic Athletes from Russia took bronze (+43.3), Finland fourth (+1:02.6), and the United States fifth (+1:20.5).
The first leg went out with Natalia Nepryaeva of Russia setting a blistering pace, fracturing the field almost immediately. A number of racers tried to stay with her only to get shot off the back of the pack. Taking a different pacing strategy, Slovenia’s Anamarija Lampic made up ground in the final section of the first leg to tag off in second, with Norways’ Ingvild Flugstad Østeberg third, all within a few seconds of each other.
Part of Nepryaeva’s fracturing of the field led to U.S. lead skier Sophie Caldwell getting dropped, to tag off 1:01.5 minutes back in 11th place.
In the second leg, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and Kerttu Niskanen of Finland clocked the fastest times, making up 24.4 and 9.9 seconds that had been lost to Russia and Norway by their teammates Anna Haag and Aino Kaisa Saarinen, respectively. In the meantime, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen of Norway had a disastrous relay leg and notched just the eighth-fastest split time, falling to fourth.
Yulia Belorukova of Russia continued to lead the race on that second leg, but Kalla tagged off at the end of the classic portion just 1.4 seconds back, and Niskanen in third (+10.1). Sadie Bjornsen made up three places to tag off in eighth (+1:05.2).
Jacobsen tagged Haga 29.8 seconds out of first. From that point, Haga gradually reeled in the leaders over the course of the 5 k skate leg. It was an absolutely dominant performance, with the fastest split time by 24.7 seconds in a less than 12-minute race.
Sweden’s Ebba Andersson led Russia’s Anastasia Sedova for the whole leg and stayed clear of the field, but Haga — the gold medalist in the 10 k skate — made up enough ground to finish her effort in third, 3.4 seconds back.
That was more than enough for Bjørgen to work with, and she and Swedish anchor Stina Nilsson quickly dropped Anna Nechaevskaya of Russia and set off on their personal duel for gold. Bjørgen led the whole way, but could not make any decisive move to drop the Swede. Instead, over the top of the climb she had about a second, which Nilsson could not close on the downhill or the final flats into the finishing straight: gradually, Bjørgen just added a meter and another to her lead and crossed the line with gold.
Nechaevskaya continued to lose time on the leaders, but still held on to bronze. Krista Pärmäkoski skied an aggressive effort for Finland to pass the team from Switzerland, which had been in fourth after strong legs from Laurien van der Graaff, Nadine Fähndrich, and Nathalie von Siebenthal. But 21-year-old Lydia Hiernickel was unable to keep the pace and Switzerland dropped to seventh by the finish, getting passed by not only Parmakoski and Jessie Diggins, but also Sandra Ringwald of Germany. The Germans finished sixth (+1:49.4) and Switzerland seventh (+1:51.5).
Kikkan Randall had skied the third-fastest split of the field (behind Haga and Andersson) in the third leg to bring the U.S. into sixth, and Diggins also skied the third-fastest split (behind Bjørgen and Nilsson) for her leg to bring the team up to fifth at the finish.
The Canadian team of Dahria Beatty, Emily Nishikawa, Cendrine Browne, and Anne-Marie Comeau placed 13th (+4:50.3) of 14 teams.
Biathlon: Women’s 12.5 k mass start
Not even a miss in the final stage could keep Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina from her third medal of the 2018 Olympics, this time gold, in the women’s 12.5-kilometer mass start on Saturday at the Alpensia Biathlon Center.
Kuzmina took charge early in the five-loop race, leading Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier into the range for the first prone shooting stage. There, Kuzmina cleaned all five targets quickly to get back out on course in first, while Dahlmeier missed one to slip out of the top 20, while several other athletes cleaned.
Kuzmina went on to hit every target over the next two shooting stages to distance herself from second place, and even with a miss on the last standing stage, she left the range 24.7 seconds clear of Darya Domracheva of Belarus in second.
Domracheva had put herself in second with clean shooting in the first two stages, then dropped to fifth with a miss on the third stage. Italy’s Dorothea Wierer was up to second by the fourth shooting after three clean stages, then fell back to seventh with a miss on the last standing.
There, Domracheva cleaned to get back into silver-medal contention, 9.3 seconds ahead of Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff in third.
Heading into the final downhill into the stadium, Kuzmina had enough time to grab a flag from one of her team’s staff members running alongside the trail. She crossed the finish line first in 35:23.0 minutes without anyone close for her third-career Olympic gold (after winning the sprint at the 2010 and 2014 Games).
Domracheva skied on her own to second, 18.8 seconds behind, for her first medal of the 2018 Games (and fifth of her career after winning three races at the 2014 Olympics).
Eckhoff, who had skied two penalty laps, took third, 27.7 seconds behind Kuzmina, while Italy’s Lisa Vittozzi held off Sweden’s Hanna Öberg, Wierer and Belarus’s Nadezhda Skardino for fourth place (+45.6). Öberg placed fifth (+46.5), Wierer was sixth (+47.3), and Skardino seventh (+47.9), ahead of Norway’s Marte Olsbu in eighth (+51.6), France’s Marie Dorin Habert in ninth (+57.9) and Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen in 10th (+1:00.9). Dahlmeier, who had won two races and placed third in another at these Olympics, finished 16th (+1:47.1) with two penalties (1+1+0+0).
No North Americans qualified for the mass start.