The mixed relay made its Winter Olympic debut today, giving the Norwegians a good chance to make up for some previous medal disappointments. It would also give Ole Einar Bjøerndalen the chance to win his 13th medal, making him the most successful Winter Olympian ever.
But they'd have to beat the strong Czech Republic and French teams first. And hey, maybe the United States had a shot? After all, Susan Dunklee and Lowell Bailey have gotten record best finishes for America in Sochi.
Things are a little different for the mixed relay. The teams consist of two women and two men. Skiers now get eight bullets to hit the five targets, so having to do a penalty lap is rare. It's best to shoot clean, though, since any miss means using precious seconds to load the extra bullet. The women ski shorter distances than the men -- 6 km instead of 7.5 -- but all four do two shooting rounds each.
Norway started strong with Tora Berger, who has been inconsistent these games. She skied fast and only missed two targets, which wasn't a problem with the extra bullets. Norway fell to second place when Tiril Eckoff went against Gabriela Soukalova (despite Soukalova's three misses), but Bjøerndalen quickly took the lead back in the third leg, handing Emil Hegle Svendsen an easy anchor leg. Svendsen shot clean (as did Bjøerndalen and Eckoff) and spent most of the last lap celebrating his inevitable victory. Which was kind dumb considering that the last time he did that he came within an inch of losing, but at least he's consistent.
With Norway's gold, Bjøerndalen has eight gold medals, four silvers and one bronze. And there's still the men's relay left for him to go for 14.
"It was a beautiful race," he told Reuters.
The Czech Republic actually skied faster than Norway, but had seven misses on the range. Still, it was good enough for the silver. And Italy, with four racers who had yet to medal at the games, grabbed the bronze with only six misses.
As for France, Anais Bescond was fast but shot poorly. She missed five targets overall, four of which were in the second shoot. That meant she had to take a penalty lap. France never really came back from that and ended up finishing seventh. Martin Fourcade was unusually slow in the anchor leg as well.
And America. Well, Susan Dunklee had a great race. She was one of the fastest women (it should be noted that Darya Domracheva was not competing today, or else she would have just done all four legs and won all the golds) and missed the fewest targets (two). But she was saddled with Hannah Dreissigacker, who missed five and had to ski a penalty lap, and Tim Burke, who missed four and had to ski a penalty lap. A strong final leg from Lowell Bailey was only good enough for ninth place.
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