SOCHI, RUSSIA— Belarus continues to run the show in a complete dominance of the sport. After taking the gold in the women’s 10km and 15km, Darya Domracheva came out and swept the 12.5km mass start, finishing with one missed shot on the last round to end the game in 35:25.6. She became the most decorated woman in Olympic history from her home country. Czech Gabriela Soukalova took home the silver finishing 20 seconds back of Domracheva and Norwegian Tiril Eckhoff, taking the bronze for the country’s second medal in the individual biathlon events.
The mass start got off to a 24-hour delay, as a heavy fog covered the Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex. The rescheduled start gave all the competitors a chance to gain another day of rest while Domracheva made it count most. She tried to become the first woman since Germany’s Magdalena Neuner to win back-to-back events and the first to win three gold medals in the same Olympics.
Russia’s Olga Vilukhina came out to take the lead of 30 women up the hill until Swiss start Selina Gasparin took over on the downhill. Behind Gasparin was Norway’s Tora Berger, who was in second until she began to lose balance and crashed off the course. She regrouped not breaking anything and had a lot of ground to make up for, sitting at the back of the pack. The first time into the shooting range saw a lot of perfect shooting from the top three with Kuzmina, Gasparin and Domracheva going five-for-five at the range. A good amount of athletes went perfect in the first round including Berger who waited for the range to be clear and shot perfectly, moving her up seven spots.
Domracheva and Kuzmina began to open the gap on the pack going into the second lap. At the first turn, Russian Olga Zaitseva took a crash into the soft snow where Poland’s Monika Hojnisz clipped into her pole, snapping it in half. Domracheva came out front for the second range with Soukalova behind her by a few seconds. The Belarusian’s precise shooting put the pressure on the rest of the biathletes, as she cleared the range with a 10-second lead. Kuzmina missed two shots that took her out of the race. She missed another three shots to finish in 27th.
In the third round, Domracheva held to a 20-second lead with Soukalova still on her tail. With the calm wins and having to stand up her 92 percent accuracy at the range with the target 60 yards away, the 16 seconds she took while going perfect kept her most of her lead with 15 seconds on the Czech.American Susan Dunklee held into the top 10, but missed another shot to move out of the running for a medal.
Domracheva had a massive lead at the nine-kilometer mark with a time of 25:47.3 with one more time on the range. She held Soukalova back by 21 seconds, giving her time to relax and try to go 20-for-20. Germany’s Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle ran in third with Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen still looking for a medal. She came into the final time at the range where mental strength and accuracy counted. She began to move her rifle trying to resettle, but missed on the fourth target. Soukalova also missed one of her shots but held onto second.
A battle for bronze was on the line between Sachenbacher-Stehle and Makarainen when the German went clean while Makarainen missed her last shot. Eckhoff took fourth place trying to race down Sachenbacher-Stehle with less than three and a half kilometers to go.
At the final time marker, Domracheva was up by at most 20 seconds coming to the finish line for her third gold medal. “It’s unbelievable,” said Domracheva about her success. “It’s a great feeling and my main feeling is being really thankful for the people here for the great support and the atmosphere they made for me here.” Soukalova won her first silver medal while a new battle for third came at the homestretch. Eckhoff successfully got ahead of the German, going neck-and-neck and finishing ahead of Sachenbacher-Stehle by a second.
Domracheva may be finished with individual events, but could possibly participate in the mixed biathlon event as Belarus has two women to compete on Wednesday.