Make friends with the windDarya Domracheva of Belarus anchored her team of Nadezhda Skardino, Irina Kryuko and Dzinara Alimbekava to the Gold medal in the women’s relay this evening in 1:12:03.9. Belarus’s surprising win came with just nine spare rounds, leaving equally surprising Silver medalists Sweden, with twelve spares, 10.7 seconds back. France, with fourteen spares won the Bronze medal, 17.6 seconds back.
Darya Domracheva: “It is just amazing to find out that I am the most successful biathlete at the Olympics… It means that the day I decided to start biathlon was the right choice. There were a lot of challenges on the way. Days like these and these medals show how important it is to believe in yourself and in your team. Then all doors are open for you.”
Moderate to heavy snow greeted the women this evening brought in by a wind that at times caused almost whiteout conditions on parts of the tracks. On the shooting range, the wind initially was light but as the snow increased the wind buffeted everyone’s shots, slowing the shooting tempo and adding to the spare rounds and penalties. By the finish, 192 spare rounds had been fired.
The pack stayed within 39 seconds from the start through the prone stage. In standing with the wind and snow blowing, only five teams headed to the exchange with a single spare round. Lisa Vittozzi led the pack by 7.6 seconds ahead of the USA, with Slovakia and Norway about 20 seconds back in that order. Franziska Preuss struggled in standing; using all three spares and taking a penalty; that left Germany one minute back in12th as she tagged Denise Herrmann; Germany never recovered from this initial deficit.
Mass start Gold medalist Anastasiya Kuzmina pushed hard to close the gap on Italy’s second leg Dorothea Wierer. With the wind blowing from the right, Kuzmina and Tiril Eckhoff needed single spares to clean and get away in first and second position. However, Wierer struggled and picked up two penalties. Herrmann cleaned prone in five shots to close the gap down to 46 seconds back. The wind played havoc in the standing stage, making the stage almost a marathon. Kuzmina waited a long time fighting the wind but picked up a penalty, falling out of contention. However, Wierer, 1:11 back after the prone stage, cleaned in five shots and bolted into the lead, followed by Kaisa Mäkäräinen, who cleaned with two spares and Belarusian Irina Kryuko, 7.9 seconds back. The Finn buried Wierer to tag Mari Laukkanen in first, with Italy now 14.2 seconds back and Slovakia another second back.
The wind was now blowing hard from the right and then shifting to head on as the third leg came to prone. Italy’s Nicole Gontier was the first to clean, but needed all three spares, while Slovakia's Poliakova used just a single spare to leave second, followed by Dzinara Alimbekava of Belarus. Next was Switzerland and Laukkanen now 14.3 seconds back, with Norway and France still in striking distance. By the standing stage, the snow had dissipated but the strong wind remained. Alimbekava was the first to close all five targets to leave in front of Poland’s Krystyna Guzik, who used just one spare, with Slovakia holding third, but 14 seconds back, and eight seconds ahead of Gontier. As they headed to the exchange, Guzik pulled into the lead as the young Belarusian faded.
Guzik tagged anchor Weronika Nowakowska in first, with Anais Bescond taking over for France 8 seconds back, followed by Federica Sanfilippo and Darya Domracheva, 12.7 and 17.1 seconds back, respectively. Laura Dahlmeier took the tag 1:12 back, in 11th position. Domracheva cleaned in five shots and was gone. Bescond and Nowakowska, with one and two spares left behind her 11.4 and 14.9 seconds back. Slovakia and Italy were another six seconds back, but still in contention.
Domracheva extended her lead on the chase pack over the next loop, heading to the standing stage that would decide the medals. The Sochi triple Gold medalist needed all three spares to clean, leaving with the lead, 24 seconds ahead of Bescond. After cleaning standing in five shots, Hanna Oeberg pushed hard out of the range and quickly came up to Bescond, passing the French veteran in a rush to move into second. Domracheva continued alone towards the Gold medal with a huge smile on her face, grabbing a Belarus flag which fell off the pole as the crossed the finish line, followed by Sweden and France. Despite dropping the flag, the smile remained frozen on Domracheva's face as her teammates greeted her.