The women's relay marks the final women's biathlon event at the games, and thus some athletes' last chances for an elusive medal. The Americans, of course, still don't have one (and aren't expected to start now), but neither does Ukraine's Olena Pidhrushna, who was seen as a medal favorite but hasn't come close yet. And then there's Team Russia, which won the gold medal in the women's relay in the previous two Olympics.
But first, they'd all have to beat Germany, which was heavily favored going into the race. But then its best competitor, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, tested positive for doping and was disqualified. She wasn't the first female biathlete to test positive, either -- Russia's Irina Starykh did before the games began. Germany finished 11th.
Italy actually had a strong start, coming in first at the end of the first leg, but quickly fell down to eighth when Nicole Gontier had to take a penalty lap after missing four times in the first shoot (remember, in relays racers get three extra bullets per shoot). They ultimately finished in sixth. Russia took over the lead, but once the Ukraine's Juliya Dzhyma shot the second shoot clean and Russia's Olga Zaitseva missed one, first place belonged to the Ukraine, where it stayed.
Pidhrushna missed just one target in the final leg to finish a good 26 seconds ahead of Russia, while Norway managed to steadily gain ground throughout the race and grab the bronze. There was a nice moment before the flower ceremony when Norway's Fanny Welle-Strand Horn said to Pidhrushna that what was happening in her country was "terrible" and she hoped the gold medal would cheer her people up. Pidhrushna said she was thinking "Ukraine! Ukraine! Ukraine!" as she finished the race.
This was Ukraine's first gold of the games; the country also won a bronze in another women's biathlon event. So all of the Ukraine's medal in these games so far have come from its female biathletes. This is also Ukraine's second-ever gold medal in the Winter Olympics.
"We dedicate this victory to all the Ukrainian people," Ukraine Olympic Committee president Sergey Bubka said. "I believe that in this hard time for the country this medal can unite us and make peace, calm and prosperity reign in Ukraine."
The Czech Republican got fourth, though at one point was in second, thanks to Gabriela Soukalova. Her teammates couldn't keep that going. The team actually missed 14 targets, the most of anyone except Slovakia (which got lapped and was pulled without finishing, oof), so they were lucky to place as high as they did. In fifth was Belarus, which had only gotten into 10th place before Darya Domracheva took the final leg and moved them up because she is just that awesome. She was able to narrow the gap between Belarus and the leaders by 41 seconds in just 6 km.
And in seventh place? Why, that would be America! Yes, we did pretty well for ourselves thanks to Susan Dunklee, who finished the first leg in fourth, and then Hannah Dreissigacker and Annelies Cook, who missed a bunch of targets but keep us in it. Sara Studebaker, the third leg, shot clean. We finished ahead of Canada. Good. Also, we missed 13 targets. If we can get better at shooting, we might have a chance in 2018.
Complete standings can be found at Sochi's official site.
More Sochi Day 14 action in The Wire's live blog.
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