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Bjoerndalen's farewell highlights Olympic biathlon

  • Article by: ERIC WILLEMSEN
  • Associated Press
  • February 23, 2014 - 6:15 AM

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Weather worries. Track troubles. Ukraine's unity. Domracheva dominating. And Bjoerndalen being brilliant.

Biathlon at the Sochi Olympics had it all.

And, yes, there was doping, too.

On the day of the final women's event, former two-time cross-country gold medalist Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle was kicked out of the Olympics after testing positive for the stimulant methylhexanamine.

The German was stripped of two fourth-place finishes in what was the second doping case to rock biathlon in Sochi after Russia's top-ranked competitor, Irina Starykh, pulled out before the games even started after failing a doping test.

The positive tests cast a shadow over the sport, which otherwise provided a string of memorable moments in the Caucasus Mountains that tower over Sochi.

In the women's 4x6-kilometer relay, Ukraine won its first gold medal in 20 years on the same day lawmakers in Kiev decided to limit presidential authority after days of street battles that killed dozens of people and injured more than 500.

"Great proof of how sport can unite the nation," Sergei Bubka, the pole vault great and leader of the Ukraine Olympic Committee, posted on Twitter.

IOC President Thomas Bach called the Ukrainian victory his standout memory of the Games, "really an emotional moment."

There was drama, too, on the finishing line of the men's mass start.

Emil Hegle Svendsen thought he had the race won and raised his arms in victory. Martin Fourcade thought otherwise and stretched for the line. A photo finish gave the win to Svendsen by only the margin of a ski-tip.

"It looked like a close finish but I had quite a good control of him," Svendsen, probably bluffing, said afterward.

That race had been postponed for two days after persistent fog limited visibility on the shooting range and the downhill parts of the course.

It was the only biathlon event at the Olympics that had to be rescheduled, despite the track being affected by weather conditions varying from spring-like sunshine in the opening week to snow and rain later in the games.

Svendsen and Fourcade took their long-standing World Cup rivalry into the Olympics. The duel ended with a draw — both left Sochi with two gold medals.

On the women's side, all eyes were on Tora Berger. The Norwegian won four golds and two silvers at the 2013 world championships and finished top of the World Cup standings in all four biathlon disciplines.

Berger won bronze, silver and — with the mixed-relay team — gold, but the Sochi show was stolen by her closest rival on the World Cup circuit, Darya Domracheva.

The Belarusian became the first woman to win three biathlon golds at the same Olympics when she eased to victory in three of the four individual events — but only after course workers on the day before the Games added 40 meters to the 2.5K loop because it was too short.

"Maybe it's strange," Domracheva said. "But I don't feel like I've done something special."

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen certainly did something special. Coming into his sixth and last Olympics, the 40-year-old Norwegian needed two medals to become the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time — and he did just that.

Bjoerndalen hadn't won an individual event on the World Cup for two years but opened the Olympics by winning the men's sprint. He later added another gold in the mixed relay, which made its debut at the Games and was the first Olympic biathlon event in which men and women competed together.

Bjoerndalen broke a string of records as he became the oldest Winter Olympic individual gold medalist, beat cross-country skiing great Bjoern Dahlie's record of 12 medals, and tied Dahlie's tally of eight gold medals.

"I've had a great career. I'm happy with my situation," Bjoerndalen said in his typically modest manner, adding that earning two golds had been "better than I thought before the Olympics."

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