PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Martin Fourcade rediscovered his shooting touch to become the first athlete to defend an Olympic biathlon pursuit title, making 19 of his 20 shots to secure his third Olympic gold medal in a dominant performance in the 12.5km race.
Normally superbly accurate in the shooting, the Frenchman missed three of his 10 shots in Sunday’s sprint on the way to finishing eighth, leaving him wondering what had happened as he prepared for the pursuit race 24 hours later.
“It was really a strange feeling - I wasn’t frustrated, I was disappointed. Yesterday I didn’t understand why I missed three, I wanted this Olympic gold medal in the sprint more than any gold medal,” Fourcade told a news conference.
“This morning, I saw a picture of my shoot and on the picture I saw the flags showing the wind was stronger than what I saw when I came to the shooting,” he said.
“At that time I realized it was not because I was unlucky, or because I didn’t understand - it was because I made a mistake.”
Fourcade made a single error in Monday’s pursuit, missing in the first prone shoot but shooting clean after that, including a high-pressure five-shot salvo alongside Arnd Peiffer that proved decisive.
“I think it was the key time of the competition, because on the third shoot the wind was really tricky and challenging, the most difficult shot of today,” the 29-year-old said.
“I took a bit more time than my opponent to shoot my first ammunition, then when I realized that I’d shot clean, I knew I was the only one who would decide who would be the Olympic champion.”
With five medals, Fourcade is France’s most decorated winter Olympian and his third gold put him level with Alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy, who topped the podium three times in Grenoble in 1968.
Silver medalist Sebastian Samuelsson had plenty of praise for Fourcade.
“Martin is the perfect biathlete. I knew when he finished eighth yesterday, I knew today he would be really fighting for the gold medal. He’s unbelievably good,” he told reporters.
In third place as the race reached its climax, the 20-year-old Swede made a brave late break against experienced German Benedikt Doll and the gamble paid off handsomely.
“For me it was that he had some meters (on me) after the shooting and I knew I had really good skis today, so I knew if I could catch him at the top I would have a good chance,” Samuelsson said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Ed Osmond