WHISTLER (Reuters) - Stunning gold medal displays by Magdalena Neuner and Bjorn Ferry in Tuesday’s Olympics biathlon programme were overshadowed by timing errors which prompted the sport’s technical delegate to lament his ‘blackest day’.
Three skiers in the women’s 10km pursuit were held back in error while two athletes in the men’s 12.5km pursuit were sent out too early. In each case, the times were later adjusted.
The most contentious mistake affected Swede Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek, who finished fourth in the women’s event, just one spot off the podium, after a strong performance.
Olofsson-Zidek was delayed by 14 seconds at the starting gate before crossing the finish line in fifth place but her time was adjusted by officials.
Norbert Baier, technical delegate for the International Biathlon Union, the sport’s governing body, apologised for all five errors made by his officials at Whistler Olympic Park.
“This was our mistake,” he told reporters. “We have to stand up to this. This is clear. I can only hope we’ll have no more problems. For me, this is the blackest day ever.”
The Swedish team initially launched a protest over Olofsson-Zidek’s delayed start but it was later withdrawn once the timings were corrected.
Six-times world champion Neuner had no problems with timings as she landed her first Olympic gold medal after coming from behind to win the women’s 10km pursuit.
Trailing Slovakia’s Anastazia Kuzmina by two seconds after Sunday’s 7.5km sprint, the 23-year-old Neuner took control after a flawless display in the first two rounds of prone shooting and never relinquished her grip.
Grinning broadly all the way down the finishing stretch, Neuner completed the course in 30 minutes 16 seconds, with Kuzmina finishing 12.3 seconds behind.
“I really tried to do a tactical race today because I was confident I was in good shape, so I concentrated on my shooting,” a beaming Neuner said.
”On the last shot I said to myself: ‘Okay, with this I could be Olympic champion’. And then I missed the target!
“It’s a great feeling to be Olympic champion but I need a little bit more time for this all to sink in,” added Neuner, who wore her trademark black and grey leggings on a crisp but dry day in the Whistler mountains.
Frenchwoman Marie Laure Brunet took the bronze after a perfect shooting display while World Cup leader Helena Jonsson of Sweden, a disappointing 12th after the opening sprint event, came home in 14th.
Ferry, clad in Swedish blue and yellow, surprised even himself by overhauling Frenchman Vincent Jay with a late charge to claim Olympic gold in the men’s 12.5km pursuit.
The Swede had trailed the pacesetting Jay by 72 seconds after Sunday’s 10km sprint but he burst into the front after a flawless display in the first three rounds of shooting.
Although he missed one target in the final round of standing shooting, the six-foot four Swede had built a big enough lead to shrug off the penalty and coast home to victory, raising both arms skywards in celebration.
Ferry, whose previous best Olympic finish was fourth place in the 4x7.5km at the 2006 Turin Games, completed the course in 33 minutes 38.4 seconds, with Austrian Christoph Sumann finishing 16.5 seconds behind.
Jay, who had delivered a shock victory in the 10km sprint to land his first gold medal, had to settle for the bronze after missing one target in each of the standing rounds of shooting.
”I’ve waited for this my whole life,“ a smiling Ferry said after climbing to the top of the podium from eighth position following Sunday’s sprint. ”I don’t know how I did it.
“Everything is possible but you have to have a bit of luck,” added the Swede, who has not been at his best this season and lies 23rd in the World Cup overall standings.
“I missed one target in the final round of standing shooting but I made my last shot. That was a great feeling.”
(Editing by Miles Evans; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)