KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - Martin Fourcade has a long way to go to match Ole Einar Bjoerndalen’s record of seven Olympic gold medals in biathlon. He’s off to a good start, though.
Fourcade earned his second gold in four days at the Sochi Games, overcoming one penalty minute to win the men’s 20-km individual race on Thursday.
The Frenchman, who won the overall World Cup title the past two years and tops this season’s standings after four victories, is getting close to dominating the sport the way Bjoerndalen did for much of the past decade. Retired French great Raphael Poiree has already dubbed Fourcade as “the new Bjoerndalen.”
“It’s an honor to be compared to Bjoerndalen,” Fourcade said. “But I am not thinking about becoming part of biathlon history. I am just happy when I can share my victories with friends and teammates.”
Fourcade, 25, who also won the 12.5K pursuit on Monday, already had a silver medal from the mass start event four years ago in Vancouver and five world titles, including in the 20K individual last year.
He finished Thursday’s race in 49 minutes, 31.7 seconds after missing one target in his second shooting.
“All the mistakes are so costly so you had to be in top form to win,” said Fourcade. “I knew I could still win despite that mistake. It was a tight victory.”
Erik Lesser of Germany shot cleanly and finished 12.2 seconds behind to take silver, his first individual medal at a major championship. Yevgeny Garanichev of Russia earned bronze, 34.5 off the lead after faulting once in his final shooting.
Bjoerndalen, who won the 10K sprint on Saturday, struggled on the course, missing four targets to finish 34th, nearly 4 minutes behind Fourcade.
“It was a heavy day,” the 40-year-old Norwegian said. “I was shooting too bad.”
He praised Fourcade, calling him “one of the strongest biathletes ever.”
The defending Olympic champion in the discipline, Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, shot clean in the first two rounds but missed his 12th target and finished seventh, 58.6 seconds behind Fourcade.
Still without a medal after three events, Svendsen said the Sochi Games so far have been a disappointment for him.
“I was feeling better today than the first two races, so it’s going the right way,” he said. “But I don’t know if it’s enough to catch a podium.”
The individual race is the only format in biathlon where athletes get a one-minute penalty added to their finishing time for each missed target. In other disciplines, they have to a ski a 150-meter penalty loop, which usually takes them about 25 seconds.
Lesser was in the lead at the final shooting. But the German knew that it would be difficult to stay ahead of Fourcade, who is a faster skier, on the final 4K lap.
“I had little hope. But I targeted a top-15 finish so it would be inappropriate not to be happy with silver now,” said Lesser. It was Germany’s first biathlon medal at the Sochi Games.
Russia has two after Garanichev edged Simon Eder of Austria by 3.3 seconds to take bronze. Olga Vilukhina won silver in the women’s 7.5K sprint.
Despite days of mild weather and temperatures reaching up to 12 degrees C in the afternoon, the track held up relatively well after course workers had put salt in it to stabilize the snow.
Bjoerndalen, however, said the course was becoming “a little bit dangerous” at the end of the race.
“It’s pretty soft,” the Norwegian said. “You need to be focused on the downhill and you need to fight through the snow. You get nothing easy today.”