ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — After almost two years without an individual win, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen stamped his authority on the Olympics on Saturday, claiming a record-equalling 12th medal by winning the biathlon sprint.
After a 10 km effort punctuated with two shooting sessions, the 40-year-old Norwegian matched compatriot Bjorn Daehlie’s Winter Games mark.
Bjoerndalen, who now has seven gold medals to his name, trails eight-times Olympic cross-country skiing champion Daehlie on only ‘gold difference’.
“I did everything the way I should today,” Bjoerndalen, whose previous individual victory came in a pursuit on Feb. 12, 2012, told Norway’s TV2.
“It was a perfectly paced race. I did things the way I know best.”
He missed one of 10 targets but shot fast and skied flawlessly to beat Austrian Dominik Landertinger, who took silver, by 1.3 seconds. Bronze medallist Jaroslav Soukup of the Czech Republic finished 5.7 seconds off the pace.
Pre-race favorites Martin Fourcade of France and Norwegian Emil Hegle Svendsen were sixth and ninth respectively.
Russian Anton Shipulin ended a frustrating fourth, 0.7 seconds from the podium as the host nation were left still waiting for their first medal of the Games.
Maine native Russell Currier, 26, finished 61st in the event in his Olympic debut with a time of 26:58.5 with four penalties..
“It wasn’t the race I was hoping for today, but at the end of the day it’s still the Olympics and it’s great just to be here,” said Currier.
“The whole County is proud of him,” said Chris Currier just after his son was named to the Olympic team last month. “He belongs to everybody up here.”
But it quickly appeared that Bjoerndalen was back to his awe-inspiring best in the Laura Complex’s crepuscular scenery.
A perfect prone shooting session put him in a good position and despite a mistake in the standing shooting, Bjoerndalen used perfectly-prepared skis to make up for lost time.
Overall World Cup leader Fourcade underlined the importance of the skis.
“There are a lot of things to analyze,” he told reporters. “The speed on the skis, for example. The Norwegians skidded better.”
It was Bjoerndalen’s third sprint Olympic title after his 1998 and 2002 triumphs.
“He deserves it. He is a professional who has helped our sport evolve,” his former great rival Raphael Poiree of France had told reporters this week when asked if Bjoerndalen could win a 12th medal.
“He is a perfectionist. There are not a lot of athletes like him. It’s been hard for him in the past three years. I think he had trouble accepting he had changed. But he learnt a lot.”
Bjoerndalen now looks set to beat Daehlie’s record as he will certainly take part in the relay event that Norway will start as one of the hot favorites.
“Last year, everybody talked about him and that he needed to retire,” said Fourcade.
“But I was one of the ones who trusted him, and I always told him that he had to follow his own way. Today he shut the mouths of all the people who were speaking about him.”
BDN sports writer Ernie Clark contributed to this report.