KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Ole Einar Bjoerndalen started and finished his last Olympic race where he’s spent much of his unrivaled biathlon career — in first place. Unfortunately for him, his teammate couldn’t stay there to give him a perfect send-off.
Bjoerndalen and Norway missed a medal in the men’s relay at the Sochi Games on Saturday, in the last appearance on the sport’s biggest stage for the most successful Winter Olympian of all time. Norway finished fourth after anchor Emil Hegle Svendsen missed three shots at the final shooting station, ending any chance of a victorious ending for Bjoerndalen.
The 40-year-old Norwegian finishes his Olympic career with eight gold medals and 13 in total after two victories in Sochi — in the opening sprint race and the mixed relay. He is retiring after this season.
“We had a dream to be on the podium today or win,” Bjoerndalen said. “It was really sad we didn’t get a medal today.”
Leaving Sochi with two golds, though, is “better than I thought before the Olympics,” he added.
Keys to the skis
Norway led the relay after brothers Tarjei Boe and Johannes Thingnes Boe opened a gap of about 20 seconds before handing over to Bjoerndalen. Biathlon’s all-time great — with 19 world championships and 94 World Cup victories — didn’t disappoint. He hit all 10 of his targets with quick shooting, but tired a bit near the end of his 7.5-kilometer leg, allowing Germany to pull within just 2 seconds.
Still, he entered the stadium in first place and sent Svendsen out in the lead. It all went wrong for Norway at the end, though. Russia and Austria had caught up to the leaders by the time they entered the final shooting station. Russia’s Anton Shipulin and Simon Schempp both shot clean and left the range in the lead. Dominik Landertinger of Austria missed one shot and was close behind them. But Svendsen missed one shot after another and used up his extra bullets without getting the final target down. That meant he had to ski a penalty loop, and Norway’s chances were over.
“It’s my own fault,” Svendsen said. “I don’t have a good explanation. The last target didn’t want to go down.”
After he finished, nearly a minute behind winner Russia, Bjoerndalen was among the first to console the devastated Svendsen — who won gold in the mass-start race and the mixed relay.
“That can happen to everybody,” Bjoerndalen said. “And that happened to our best biathlete ever, Emil. He is really disappointed, much more than the rest of the team. It’s a really tough moment now for him.”
To put Svendsen ahead of himself might be a stretch, but it shows the humility Bjoerndalen has always displayed in the 21 years since his World Cup debut. When it came time to sum up his accomplishments, he was characteristically low-key.
“I’ve had a great career,” Bjoerndalen said. “I’m happy with my situation.”
Winter speed demons (and curlers, too)
With eight Olympic golds and 13 total medals, he should be.
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