Russia delighted an ecstatic home crowd by winning the gold medal in the biathlon men's 4x7.5-kilometer relay.
With an overall time of 1:12:15.9, the Russian Federation claimed its first biathlon gold in Sochi, edging out Germany by 3.5 seconds in a thrilling finish. Although the Soviet Union dominated the event from 1969-1988, this is the Russian Federation's first win in the men's team relay.
Austria finished in a distant third at 1:12:45.7 to take bronze. In a stunning result, the favored Norwegians left empty-handed, failing to extend Ole Einar Bjorndalen's record medal count to 14.
The opening minutes foreshadowed an interesting event, as the unheralded Canada team jumped to an early lead while the United States held its own. NBC Web Producer Olivia Wittels provided the first of many updates after a thrilling opening range.
But Norway jumped ahead after Tarjei Boe hit four of five shots in the second rifle range. The lead did not last long in a back-and-forth event that saw the favorites spar for top seeding throughout the competition.
On the strength of clean shooting, the United States remained in the hunt early. A messy result in the third range, however, gutted that early momentum for the Americans, who finished far down the pack in 16th out of 19 competing countries.
Germany exited the third range on top, but Johannes Boe sped through the fourth range to put Norway back on top. The 20-year-old was the first to drop his rifle and resume skiing, giving his country a lead for its star to maintain.
Entering the final biathlon event of the 2014 Winter Olympics, all eyes were on Norway's Bjoerndalen, who won his record 13th Olympic medal during Wednesday's mixed relay. With the 40-year-old legend leading the way, Norway was expected to defend its gold medal from four years ago and duplicate its mixed-relay success.
He did his part, delivering another vintage performance on the grand stage. He glided through the course before breezing past the shooting range. As Wittels noted "The King" was at his best.
The King makes QUITE a statement, shooting perfectly. Norway still in the lead #biathlon— Olivia Wittels (@owittels) February 22, 2014
Age has not affected the decorated Olympian at all in Sochi. After winning the 15-kilometer sprint, he told the Associated Press' Eric Willemsen that he felt much younger.
"I always forget that (I'm 40). I feel like I'm 20. My age is perfect," Bjoerndalen said. "I am in super form. I prepared well for this and I am feeling strong."
Unfortunately for Norway, Svendsen stumbled in the eighth range, putting his team 43 seconds behind before enduring a penalty lap that wiped the favorites out of medal contention altogether.
For a while, Germany stood as the benefactors of Norway's drop. After placing near the top throughout the hour-plus race, Germany saw its stiffest adversary lag behind to its delight.
That's before the underdog Russians swooped in to steal the gold by a few seconds. With the crowd eagerly cheering him on, Anton Shipulin sealed the deal for the hosting nation in an unexpected photo finish.
While Bjoerndalen was not provided a perfect ending, his illustrious career is still worth celebrating before he calls it quits. In June, he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he will retire after the 2014 Olympics (h/t News in English).
If he sticks to his plans to call it a career, he's still leaving on a high note despite Saturday's disappointing finish.
In a pleasant surprise, France's Martin Fourcade, a titan in the biathlon field, competed despite speculation otherwise. He had dominated in Sochi with two gold medals and one silver, but was expected to miss the last race due to sinusitis.
"He's not well. The outlook is not good at all," France coach Stephane Bouthiaux told Reuters on Friday.
Despite the illness, he finished silver in the 15-kilometer mass start behind Norwegian Emil Hegle Svendsen. He partook in the relay for France, who finished in eighth place at 1:13:46.4.