Svendsen a quick learner; tops Bjoerndalen

Associated Press / February 19, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen denied countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen his sixth Olympic gold, beating his mentor in the men’s 20-kilometer individual biathlon race yesterday.

“I don’t think I would be here if it weren’t for Bjoerndalen,’’ Svendsen said. “I train with him every day, and I try to copy everything he does. I owe him great thanks. I’m very humble that I can be on the same team with him.’’

Bjoerndalen was in position to win biathlon’s biggest and toughest race, but he missed the first target on his final, standing shoot, costing him a one-minute penalty. He finished 9.5 seconds behind Svendsen’s winning time of 48 minutes 22.5 seconds.

Sergey Novikov of Belarus, who hit all 20 targets, tied Bjoerndalen for the silver medal. Svendsen missed one target and Bjoerndalen two.

This was the first tie for a medal since biathlon was added to the Olympics 50 years ago.

Bjoerndalen would have had a big lead - 42 seconds - had he not missed a shot on his final trip to the range. In the individual race, a missed target results in one minute being added to the time instead of a 150-meter penalty loop as in other events.

After winning five gold medals in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics - including a sweep of all four events in Salt Lake City - Bjoerndalen failed to add to his tally in Turin, having to settle for two silvers and a bronze.

America’s best biathlete, Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, N.Y., missed five targets, including three on his final shoot, and finished five minutes back in 41st place.

Women’s 15k
Tora Berger only missed one target, and Norway hit a big one - the first nation to win 100 gold medals at the Winter Olympics.

The 28-year-old Norwegian finished the 15-kilometer biathlon race in 40 minutes, 58.2 seconds, beating silver medalist Elena Khrustaleva of Kazakhstan by 20.7 seconds.

Darya Domracheva of Belarus took the bronze, 28.2 seconds behind Berger.

Although Berger knew she’d had a good race, her early start number meant she had a long wait to see whether it was good enough for gold.

“It was really nervous to wait,’’ said Berger, who had bib No. 2 among 87 skiers in the interval-start race.

When her last remaining rivals faltered on the last shooting range, she broke down in tears as her teammates and coaches started congratulating her.

Berger missed her only target on her very last shot for a one-minute penalty, but had built such a large lead that it didn’t matter.

Aside from the two other medalists, no one else even came within a minute of Berger, with German veteran and three-time gold medalist Kati Wilhelm 1:04.5 behind in fourth.

After a substandard performance four years ago in Turin, Norway seems to be back on form in Vancouver, where Marit Bjoergen won gold No. 99 Wednesday in the women’s cross-country sprint.