Defending champion Kuzmina wins biathlon gold
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Less than 24 hours after her younger brother just missed out on an Olympic medal, Anastasiya Kuzmina succeeded — and then dedicated her gold medal to him.
Kuzmina became the first woman in biathlon to successfully defend an individual Olympic title by winning gold in the 7.5-kilometer sprint Sunday at the Sochi Games.
A day earlier, her brother Anton Shipulin faulted on the very last shot, squandered his lead and finished fourth in the men’s 10K race.
“I was feeling for Anton, I was rooting for him,” Kuzmina said. “This is my day, I will dedicate it to him. I hope I’ve made a difference in his feelings by my victory. I hope that it inspires him for (Monday’s) pursuit. He can win.”
Competing for Slovakia, the Russian-born Kuzmina shot flawlessly and finished in 21 minutes, 6.8 seconds for her third Olympic medal. Besides gold in the sprint she also took silver in the pursuit in Vancouver four years ago.
Olga Vilukhina of Russia trailed Kuzmina by 19.9 seconds to win silver, and Vita Semerenko of Ukraine was 21.7 behind for bronze.
Kuzmina opted for a Slovakian pass six years ago but said her heart is still with Russia.
“This victory in my homeland is a big thing,” Kuzmina said. “I am only a Slovakian passport holder, I am a Russian national. Here I am at home, the atmosphere is so familiar, so supportive, so comfortable, so homely.”
Winning gold again completes a remarkable return to form for Kuzmina.
After earning two medals in Vancouver, she added a bronze in the sprint event at the world championships the next year.
However, she then failed to produce a similar standard in the World Cup events and said she had lost her motivation. Her career was boosted again by the return of coach Juraj Sanitra, who took charge of the Slovakian team again two years ago.
“It was a long way to this gold medal, it’s not the same (as in Vancouver),” Kuzmina said. “It was hard work for four years. Just unbelievable.”
Vilukhina also praised the Russian fans who backed her on the way to her first Olympic medal.
“I’m proud for all these people who supported me,” she said through a translator. “I’m really happy and I wanted to reach this goal for 10 years.”
Semerenko also earned her first Olympic medal, adding to five she won at various world championships.
“I tried not to think about medals before the race, I tried just to focus on the race and do my best,” Semerenko said through a translator. “I’m very happy with the bronze medal because at the beginning of the season I had a problem with my health.”
Contrary to the top three in Sunday’s race, most of the pre-race favorites struggled in the shooting.
Overall World Cup champion Tora Berger missed the first target in her opening round but was clean — and fast — in the second. Still, the overall World Cup champion from Norway finished 10th, 33.8 seconds behind Kuzmina.
“It was a really hard race,” Berger said. “I had one mistake, and it was one too much ... I think it was a good finish, but not a good start.”
Berger’s biggest rival all season, Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, faulted twice in her last round of shooting and ended up in 30th.
Another predicted medal candidate, Darya Domracheva of Belarus, missed her first target but sped up and quickly hit the other four. She was clean in her final round and finished ninth, 31.8 seconds behind.
Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic blew her chances by missing the first two and the fifth target in the prone shooting, forcing her to three 150-meter penalty loops.
Soukalova has won three World Cup events so far this season, more than any other biathlete, and is fourth in the overall standings.
Late starter Selina Gasparin looked like a threat for Kuzmina but the Swiss, who won two sprints this season, faulted on her last target. She lacked the pace to make up for the extra 150 meters and finished 13th.
The next women’s event is the 10K pursuit on Tuesday.