Norwegian almost loses Olympic gold while celebrating

Updated Feb. 18, 2014 at 3:27 PM
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SOCHI, Russia, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Emil-Hegle Svendsen of Norway raised his arms in triumph as he neared the finish line Tuesday and it almost cost him an Olympic biathlon gold medal.

The men's 15-kilometer mass start biathlon race finally took place two days after it was originally scheduled and the drama it produced was worth the wait for aficionados of the sport.

It turned out to be a classic battle in the snow with the No. 1 athlete in the history of the sport missing out on a very good chance at creating a Winter Olympics record for most medals won.

Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen seemed poised to win the 13th medal of his Olympic career, but after turning in three perfect trips to the shooting range he missed four out of his last five targets and eventually finished 22nd.

After the final round of shooting, the race turned into a two-man affair between Svendsen and France's Martin Fourcade, already the winner of two individual gold medals at the Sochi Olympics.

Svendsen, the winner of two gold medals in Vancouver, shot cleanly in all four trips to the range. Fourcade, trying to join biathlete Darya Domracheva of Belarus as a three-time winner, missed one target in his first round of shooting but overcame his 150-meter penalty lap to close in behind Svendsen.

As the two entered the stadium for the final time Svendsen inched in front and over the final few strides he decided he had enough of a lead to guarantee a victory.

He lifted his arms in triumph and coasted toward the line, but Fourcade did not give up. Fourcade had been following directly behind Svendsen, but suddenly tried to move around him and as he reached the line the Frenchman thrust one of his skis forward.

The winner is determined by which ski tip crosses the line first and Fourcade almost pulled it off. Svendsen and Fourcade received the same time, but a photo showed Svendsen barely reached the line first.

Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic finished third, 13.8 seconds behind the winner. Moravec, silver medalist in the biathlon pursuit, had a perfect shooting effort in the race.

Bjorndalen was part of a four-man leading pack coming into the last shooting phase, in which five shots are fired from the standing position.

If Bjorndalen had hit all five targets, as he had done in his first three attempts, there is little doubt he would have won a medal. He had skied a perfect race to that point and the Norwegian team had properly figured out the right ski combination for the snowy conditions.

That last shooting round, however, turned into a disaster and the four misses sent him off to ski an extra 600 meters -- ending his medal hopes. Bjorndalen and Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie are tied for most medals won in a Winter Olympics career at 12.

There are two relays left for Bjorndalen to earn the medal he still needs to set the record.

Tuesday's race was originally scheduled for Sunday night, but heavy fog postponed it until Monday morning. The fog did not go away, however, and another 24-hour postponement had to be endured.

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