Ustyugov delivers in men's 15K mass start biathlon

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Associated Press

Posted on February 22, 2010 at 6:35 AM

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Evgeny Ustyugov won Russia's first gold medal in a men's Olympic biathlon race in 16 years when he captured the 15-kilometer mass start race Sunday, making amends for poor shooting and sluggish skiing in his previous three races.

"I realized that it's high time we broke out of this vicious cycle, and God smiled upon us today," Ustyugov said after becoming the first Russian to win biathlon Olympic gold since Sergei Tchepikov took the 10K sprint in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.

Ustyugov shot cleanly to finish in 35 minutes, 35.7 seconds, beating Martin Fourcade of France by 10.5 seconds. Pavol Hurajt of Slovakia won the bronze, finishing 16.6 seconds behind Ustyugov.

Fourcade's silver gave France five biathlon medals at the Winter Olympics for the first time ever. He finished second despite missing three targets, including two on the first, prone shoot and one on the final, standing shoot. Like Ustyugov, Hurajt hit all 20 targets.

Ustyugov, 24, who finished fourth in the 20K and 15th in both the sprint and pursuit, where he missed four of 20 shots, improved both his ski times and his accuracy to win his first Olympic medal.

The mass start, featuring the top 30 competitors in biathlon, is the ultimate race in the sport combining the rigor of cross-country skiing with the calm precision of rifle marksmanship. With all the competitors starting at the same time, there's the added element of tactical risks on the track.

Pre-race favorite Emil Hegle Svendsen, of Norway, who already has a gold and silver medal at Vancouver, started well but missed a shot on the first standing and two on the final one, falling back to 13th.

"I'm disappointed for sure," Svendsen said. "But I've got my medals for these Olympics."

Inaccuracy also befell his teammate, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the most decorated biathlete in Olympic history. He missed seven targets and finished in 27th place.

"On some days it's just not working," Bjoerndalen said. "Today certainly was a horrible day. I made seven mistakes at shooting. These Olympic Games are very disappointing for me. Horrible."

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