Midway, Utah Feb. 16, 2002 (AP by Mark Long)--Three biathlon events, three dominant performances and three gold medals.
In a sport that combines the rigor and intensity of cross-country skiing with the precision and calm of marksmanship, no one has been better than Ole Einar Bjoerndalen at the Olympics.
The Norwegian became the first biathlete to win three gold medals in the Winter Games as he dominated the men's 12.5-kilometer pursuit Saturday despite two shooting mistakes.
Raphael Poiree of France won the silver and Ricco Gross of Germany took the bronze.
``Throughout the race, I wasn't really worried that the others would catch up with me,'' Bjoerndalen said. ``But I never thought I would get three gold medals before I came here.
``For me, this is really amazing.''
The Americans had a strong showing with Jay Hakkinen starting 26th and finishing 13th--the best showing for an American in any individual biathlon event. Jeremy Teela was 23rd and Lawton Redman was 52th. The previous U.S. best had been 14th, accomplished four times.
``To see that curse broken is a huge achievement,'' Hakkinen said. ``The only thing better would have been a medal.''
Bjoerndalen began the event 29 seconds ahead of Germany's Sven Fischer based on results from Wednesday's 10K sprint.
It was a sizable lead that easily could have disappeared with a few missed shots. And it almost did, as Bjoerndalen missed his first shot and had to ski a penalty loop that cost him valuable time.
But the three-time Olympian made up the lost seconds on the Soldier Hollow course and cruised to victory--even with another late miss. He made 18 of 20 shots total.
He was so far ahead that he stopped pushing with a few meters to go, pumped his poles twice in the air, coasted across the finish and still won by 43 seconds.
Bjoerndalen covered the course in 32 minutes, 34.6 seconds. Poiree, always strong in pursuit events, started more than a minute behind and rallied for second with one penalty. It was his first medal.
Poiree's podium finish makes him part of the first married couple to win medals while competing for different countries. His wife, Liv Grete Poiree of Norway, won the silver in the 15K individual race Monday.
Gross, a four-time Olympian, picked up his sixth medal after finishing fourth twice at these games and getting edged in both races.
``I had nothing to lose,'' said Gross, who misfired twice during his last of four stops at the shooting range.
That cost him any shot at catching Bjoerndalen, who has controlled all three men's biathlon events at Soldier Hollow.
He blew away the field in the 20K individual race Monday, winning by more than 36 seconds, and won the 10K event going away two days later.
``I just wanted to make three good races,'' said Bjoerndalen, who also finished sixth in the 30K cross-country race. ``To win three gold medals is hard for me because 10 to 15 people have a chance to win every race.''
Bjoerndalen's latest medal gives him five for his career. He won the 10K sprint and finished second in the 4x7.5-relay at the Nagano Games in 1998.
He could add more. He will race in one more biathlon event--the 4x7K relay Wednesday--and could race in two more cross-country events, the 50K classical race and 4x10 relay.
``It's really fun,'' he said. ``I'm in perfect shape right now and I'm shooting fast and clean--sometimes clean.''
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