The crowd was poised to celebrate what was expected to be the 13th Olympic medal for Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, which would have made him the most decorated athlete in the history of the Winter Games.
Instead, Bjoerndalen missed three of the 20 targets during the shooting portions of the competition and he wound up fourth. Even though he had to ski three penalty laps of 150 meters each, Bjoerndalen missed out on a medal by only 1.7 seconds.
Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic finished second, 14.1 seconds behind Fourcade, and Jean Gillaume Beatrix of France wound up third.
Beatrix is 15 years younger than the 40-year-old Bjoerndalen and the superstar Norwegian had to ski 300 yards farther because of the missed shots and yet Beatrix barely held on.
The skiers stopped four times during the 12.5-kilometer race to shoot at five targets -- the first two shooting phases being from the prone position and the last two rounds of shots taken while standing.
A medal hung in the balance with each and every shot taken by the contenders and when Bjoerndalen missed an attempt in the second round the crowd let out an audible groan. He also missed once during the third round and that seemed certain to eliminate him from medal contention.
Fourcade had one miss in the third round, but he is a much quicker skier than both Moravec and Beatrix and Fourcade came into the stadium for the final round of shooting with a lead of 27 seconds.
When Fourcade hit all five of his shots in the last round, he was so sure he would win that he took an extra second to salute the spectators who filled the grandstands.
He still had more than two kilometers to ski and his lead dwindled slightly along the way, but Fourcade easily held on for his second Olympic medal. He took a silver in the 15-kilometer mass start race in Vancouver.
As Fourcade was completing his last shooting round, Bjoerndalen came into the firing range still having a chance for a medal. He had made up ground between the third and fourth shooting rounds and a clean effort on the range would have put him on the podium.
He hit his first four targets, then missed the fifth and he set out to ski yet another penalty lap.
Bjoerndalen is tied for the most medals in Olympic history with Norway cross-country hero Bjorn Daehlie, whose 12 medals include eight golds.
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