Norway's star-studded biathlon team captured gold in the first ever mixed relay competition at the Olympics. The Czech Republic earned the silver medal, and Italy rounded out the podium with a third-place finish to secure bronze.
The gold for Norway is especially memorable for Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The longtime Olympic star established a new Winter Games record with 13 total medals. He won his first medals at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and has never slowed down.
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated noted the accomplishment:
Knowing that, let's check out how all 16 countries that competed in the relay finished and recap the action from the Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex in Sochi.
Biathlon Mixed Relay Results
|2x6km Women's & 2x7.5km Men's Mixed Relay|
The greatness of two-time individual Olympic medalist Tora Berger was on display for Norway during the first leg of the competition. She led for a large portion of the leg, fell behind by nearly 15 seconds due to some poor shooting from the standing position and still managed to make the time back up.
It allowed the Norwegian team, which featured four athletes who had already won a medal in the Games, to hold the lead heading into the second portion of the race. NBC Olympics' Olivia Wittels noted the early edge:
Before the Games, the Olympics' official site passed along comments from Berger. She talked, almost prophetically, about reaching a point where she could make up time if her shooting was a little off target on any given day:
I started competing in cross-country when I was seven years old. When I was about 18 I started to think that I could have a long sporting career. I started to practice shooting more seriously, more than once a week. I wasn't very good at it before, but I got a lot better. I've also become a little bit stronger on the tracks too, which has increased my chances of success. All of a sudden I don't need to shoot clean all the time.
Norway lost the lead to the Czech Republic during the second leg thanks to a very strong performance from Gabriela Soukalova. Like Berger, she actually fell quite a bit behind (22.6 seconds) before skiing her way back to the top.
The lead over Norway was a shade over one second as Jaroslav Soukup took to the course for the leaders. The next closest team was Italy, which was over 19 seconds off the pace.
Soukup was no match for Bjoerndalen of Norway, though. The 40-year-old veteran, who had already reached the podium 12 times during his decorated career, almost immediately took the lead and started pulling away from the pack.
Bjoerndalen was virtually flawless, both as a shooter and a skier, during his leg. The result was turning that one-second deficit into a 43-second edge for Norway heading into the final athlete. The Czech Republic and Italy remained in podium positions with one leg to go.
For Bjoerndalen, his record-breaking medal hopes were in the hands of Emil Hegle Svendsen, as NBC Gold Zone noted:
Sure enough, the Norwegian closer put together a workmanlike performance to secure gold for the nation and history for Bjoerndalen. The lead was never less than 30 seconds during the final leg as the chasers failed to make up any serious ground.
The Czech Republic and Italy both maintained their spots to earn medals. The United States team finished ninth, more than three minutes off the pace.
This finish is especially sweet for Bjoerndalen. Though he had already established his dominance as an Olympian, this historic feat secures his title as a top world athlete. It might have taken longer than he had hoped in Sochi to lock up the 13th medal, but he'll have the pressure of that accomplishment off his shoulders now.
With the Games winding down, all eyes will turn to the overall medal standings. It's a tight race at the top, and the final days of action will play a crucial role in determining which countries lead the way once the Sochi Olympics come to a close.
Updated Medal Count