Svendsen, Fourcade battle for 1st biathlon gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will have a first shot at his seventh career Olympic gold medal Saturday, though fellow Norwegian Emil Hegle Svendsen and France’s Martin Fourcade will start as favorites in the men’s 10-kilometer sprint.
The most decorated biathlete of all time, veteran Bjoerndalen turned 40 last month and, once nicknamed “The Cannibal,” he is still hungry for titles.
However, a victory Saturday would be an upset as Bjoerndalen’s last win in an individual competition came almost two years ago in a World Cup 12.5K pursuit in Finland.
All eyes will be on a possible duel between Svendsen and Fourcade, who have each racked up four wins this World Cup season.
Svendsen beat Fourcade to the world title last year, but the Frenchman has won three of the last seven sprints in the World Cup and reached the podium in nine of his last 11 races. He leads Svendsen in the overall standings going into the Olympics.
Fourcade believes the tough Olympic course could suit him as he looks to follow in the footsteps of retired fellow Frenchman Vincent Jay, who won the sprint title in Vancouver four years ago.
“It’s feeling good, the course is good, demanding,” Fourcade said. “I want to get going.”
Fourcade is aiming to become the third Frenchman to win biathlon gold, after Jay in 2010 and Vincent Defrasne four years earlier.
Retired Raphael Poiree is widely regarded as the country’s strongest biathlete with 44 World Cup wins, but he failed to win Olympic gold.
Besides winning the sprint title, Svendsen also came first in the 12.5K pursuit as well as in both the men’s and the mixed relay competitions at the world championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
Svendsen is racing for his third Olympic gold medal after the two he took home from Vancoucver. He won the 20K individual race and was part of Norway’s relay team.
If Svendsen and Bjoerndalen come up short, Norway might still be in the running for gold with reigning three-time world champion Tarjei Boe, while Russia’s Anton Shipulin will be eager to give the home crowd in the 7,500-capacity Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center something to cheer.