Bjoerndalen wins fourth gold

Feb. 20, 2002 at 8:34 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Ole Einar Bjoerndalen became the third athlete in Winter Olympic history to win at least four gold medals in one appearance Wednesday, anchoring Norway's 4x7.5-meter biathlon team to victory.

Expecting the historic achievement, Norwegian King Harald was one of the 15,000-plus fans to brave a driving snowstorm at Soldier Hollow.

The king was not disappointed by his country's star athlete, who became the first Winter Olympian to win four golds since American speed skater Eric Heiden claimed a record five in 1980 at Lake Placid.

"This is very special," said Bjoerndalen, who swept the three men's individual events and joined Soviet speed skater Lydia Skoblikova as the only other four-time gold medalists in Winter Olympic history.

Frank Luck anchored Germany to a silver medal in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 27.6 seconds, and Raphael Poiree skiied the final leg for bronze medalist France, which finished in 1:24:36.6.

After completing Norway's combined time of 1:23:42.3 seconds, Bjoerndalen was mobbed by teammates Egil Gjelland, Frode Andresen and Halvard Hanevold, who carried him on their shoulders -- again.

The only five-time gold medalist in Olympic biathlon history, Bjoerndalen was far from perfect Wednesday, needing three extra shots and falling on a downhill during the third-fastest leg of the 19 teams.

By the time Gjelland gave way to Norway's anchor, the team had a substantial lead of more than a minute over Russia, with Germany and France in position to medal.

Bjoerndalen did not extend the lead, however, struggling in all phases. He needed two extra shots from the prone position and another while standing, allowing Germany and France to close the gap.

"My shooting wasn't perfect," Bjoerndalen said. "But the other guys gave me a good lead."

The lead also was big enough for Bjoerndalen to survive a fall during a downhill portion of his leg. He ended up losing about 10 seconds.

"I told the skier to move left and he didn't move left, so I fell," Bjoerndalen said.

After finishing 45.3 seconds ahead of Luck, Bjoerndalen thanked his teammates, who used a combination of skiing strength and accuracy to take the lead and maintain it.

"To me, it was much easier than other races," said Bjoerndalen, who won the 20-kilometer, 10-kilometer sprint and 12.5-kilometer pursuit. "My team did so good for me and I was in front."

He said the fourth gold medal will be followed by a celebration.

"I think it's not only in Norway there will be a party," he said. "I think also tonight there will be a party here."

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