The Russians, once a powerhouse in biathlon, the military-inspired sport that mixes shooting with cross-country skiing, absolutely craved a gold in the men’s 20km race. The Russian fans, waving flags and blowing horns, came out in droves to cheer their man, Evgeniy Garanichev.
But he came up short, with a bronze, though it was Russia’s first biathlon medal of the Sochi Games. If he hadn’t missed a shot, he would have won. “This one missed shot isn't silver but gold,” he said.
Gold went to the Martin Fourcade, even though he missed one of his 20 shots, earning him a one minute penalty. It was his second gold medal at Sochi, making him an instant hero in France. On Monday, he won the 12.5km pursuit.
Fourcade is the first Frenchman to win twin golds at a Winter Games since 1968. Silver went to Erik Lesser of Germany.
The three Canadians in the race were never in contention for a medal, but Brendan Green of Hay River, NWT, delivered a fine performance, with a 21st place finish and two missed shots, in a field of 88 competitors. Nathan Smith of Calgary was just behind, at 25th.
Jean-Philippe Le Guellec of Shannon, Que., who is considered the strongest member of the biathlon team, finished 35th, knowing he was capable of a better performance. On Wednesday, in the 12.5-kilometre event, he was leading the pack after the second shoot and seemed on his way to a medal. But he fell on “calamity curve,” wrecking his chances.
“Today definitely, ski shape wise, I was not in the same game as the sprint or pursuit,” he said. “Conditions were hard too …We have six events and we can’t expect to be in shape for six events.”
He said the warm weather hurt his performance. “It’s definitely slushy out there,” he said.
Temperatures were high in the alpine resorts, reaching 13 degrees Celsius on Thursday at the biathlon and cross country centre, and not dipping below zero in the evening. While no Sochi competition event has been delayed or cancelled because of the deteriorating snow, that could change as temperatures remain high.
All three of the Canadian competitors qualified for Sunday's 15km mass start race.