Bjoerndalen gets back atop the podium

By Arnie Stapleton
Associated Press / February 27, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Ole Einar Bjoerndalen grabbed a giant Norwegian flag from a fan as he crossed the bridge leading to the stadium straightaway in the men’s biathlon relay.

So brilliant was Bjoerndalen’s final leg yesterday he was able to leisurely glide the final 150 meters, cradling the flag in his right arm and soaking it all in.

He was an Olympic champion again. And just five days after calling his performances “horrible,’’ prompting some to wonder if they would ever see him stand atop the medals podium again.

“It’s a great feeling today,’’ Bjoerndalen said after winning his sixth career gold medal. “For me, it was not optimum before the relay, but today, I forget everything. It’s perfect for me.’’

As he crossed the finish line, the darling of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games flashed his million-dollar smile - the best biathlete in history was back in business.

Behind Bjoerndalen’s blazing final leg, the Norwegians covered the Whistler Olympic Park course in 1 hour, 21 minutes and 38.1 seconds in steady snowfall.

Christoph Sumann edged Russia’s Evgeny Ustyugov, giving Austria the silver. The Austrians were 38.6 seconds behind Norway. Russia was 38.8 seconds back for the bronze.

Despite no golds in Turin (two silver and one bronze), Bjoerndalen was among the favorites in every race at these Games. Entering yesterday, he had one only one silver.

But with a dazzling race in which he blazed across the slushy snow and feverishly knocked down all 10 of his targets, the 36-year-old Bjoerndalen followed outstanding performances by teammates Halvard Hanevold, Tarjei Boe, and Emil Hegle Svendsen.

This was Norway’s eighth gold medal of these Games.

Bjoerndalen now has 11 Olympic medals overall, but this was his first Olympic victory since sweeping all four events in Salt Lake City. He won his first gold at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Bjoerndalen started the 7.5-kilometer anchor leg in first place this time, just 0.2 seconds ahead of Sumann. They skied into the range together for the prone shoot, where they both showed some nerves.

Bjoerndalen missed two of seven shots - but Sumann missed four of eight and had to ski a penalty loop, dropping him into third, behind Ustyugov.

Still one of the fastest skiers on the circuit, Bjoerndalen opened a big lead and skied into the range for his standing shoot well ahead of his pursuers. This time, he shot cleanly, knocking down all five targets.

As he slung his rifle over his shoulder and pushed off for the final leg, it was clear Bjoerndalen would win the gold.