Olympic biathlon race produces a stunner as favorites falter
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The two-man race between Martin Fourcade and Johannes Thingnes Boe for Olympic gold never materialized.
They’ve pretty much become the Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte of the biathlon — only they have skis and rifles instead of Speedos and swim caps.
So when neither landed on the medal podium Sunday at the Pyeongchang Games, it sent shockwaves through the biathlon world.
Fourcade, a Frenchman ranked No. 1 in the world, missed three of five shots from the prone position, forcing him to do three penalty laps. He finished eighth overall.
Thingnes Boe, the world’s No. 2, was even farther behind. The Norwegian missed three from the prone position and one from the standing position with his .22 caliber rifle and wound up a distant 31st, more than a minute behind the leader.
No one was more stunned than Germany’s Arnd Peiffer, who took home the gold medal after hitting all 10 of his targets.
“I don’t know how this could happen,” Peiffer said. “The other two guys, Martin and Johannes, they were dominating the whole season. They were dominating with their ski time; they were dominating on the range as well. So I didn’t expect it was possible to be in front of them. I’m quite surprised.”
Thingnes Boe just shrugged his shoulders, offering no explanation for his performance.
“This is the biathlon and this is the Olympics,” he said. “It’s hard.”
The 29-year-old Fourcade has been the sport’s most dominant competitor since the 2011-12 season, when he won the first of six straight World Cup titles. He also won two golds and a silver at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Thingnes Boe has been battling him all the way this season, sometimes beating Fourcade, but often finishing second.
Thingnes Boe ended the Frenchman’s World Cup-winning streak on Jan. 15 with victory in the men’s 15-kilometer mass start. Fourcade bounced back to defeat Thingnes Boe the following week in the final race before the Olympics.
After Sunday’s race they shook hands, both discouraged by the stunning results.
“We’re both not happy,” Thingnes Boe said. “I think the other athletes should be happy that we failed today.”
Last week, Michael Roesch of Belgium put the biathlon competition in perspective, saying bluntly: “Right now there are two guys fighting for the podium. It’s Fourcade and Thingnes Boe — and then it’s the rest of the world.”
But on Sunday, the rest of the podium consisted of Michal Krcmar of the Czech Republic in second and Dominik Windisch of Italy in third.
“It was our lucky day and maybe not the day for them,” Windisch said. “But they will have many other chances at this Olympic Games.”
Thingnes Boe isn’t so sure about that, at least when it comes to Monday’s 12.5-kilometer pursuit.
The seeding for that race is based on the times from the sprint race. So Fourcade will start 24 seconds behind the leader, while Thingnes Boe will begin 1 minute, 24 seconds behind.
“I have no chance with mistakes,” Thingnes Boe said. “I have to make the really perfect race to be fighting for a medal. Even then I might be too far back.”
Sunday was another cold day at the Olympics and windy conditions affected all the shooters, some more than others.
Thingnes Boe said the wind on the shooting range gave him fits while Windisch said the difficult conditions on the course might have leveled the playing field.
“It was not easy,” Windisch said. “It continued to change but maybe it was the best for me because I had something to concentrate on. Maybe that was my secret today.”
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