WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Russia won the women's biathlon relay at the Vancouver Olympics on Tuesday after Olga Zaitseva easily protected her team's massive lead on the final leg to secure the gold medal.
Olga Medvedtseva practically guaranteed the win for the Russians on the third leg after her quick shooting gave Zaitseva a 45-second head start on German rival Andrea Henkel at the final exchange.
Despite some shaky shooting, Zaitseva had plenty of time on the final straightaway to enjoy the victory, slowing up and blowing kisses to the crowd as she entered the ski stadium.
She said she looked around for a Russian flag to grab, so she could wave it as she skied down the final straight. The Russian fans, however, didn't seem to dare start the celebrations early.
"Apparently people were extra cautious, so they wouldn't give me a flag," Zaitseva said. "But already when I was crossing the bridge (into the stadium) I was blowing kisses."
The Russian team, which included Svetlana Sleptsova and Anna Bogaliy-Titovets, finished the 4x6-kilometer race in 1 hour, 9 minutes, 36.3 seconds. The French quartet of Marie Laure Brunet, Sylvie Becaert, Marie Dorin and Sandrine Bailly took the silver after finishing 32.8 seconds behind.
The German team of Kati Wilhelm, Simone Hauswald, Martina Beck and Henkel earned bronze, 37.1 seconds back.
Zaitseva and Bogaliy-Titovets were part of the Russian team that won the save event in Turin four years ago.
In the relay format, the skiers can shoot eight times at the five targets at each position. Only five bullets can be loaded at a time, so a skier will lose time reloading if they miss. After using all eight rounds, the competitor must ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each remaining target.
Zaitseva was immediately mobbed by her teammates in the finish area for a big group hug to celebrate a rare Russian gold medal at these games.
They had mainly Medvedtseva to thank for it.
Brunet gave France a 22-second lead at the first exchange, but Hauswald and Bogaliy-Titovets caught up to Becaert on the second leg, and the three teams stayed together until Medvedtseva pulled away. At the prone shooting station, the Russian quickly made all five shots to open up an 11.6-second lead over Germany's Beck, while Dorin's poor shooting cost France a chance at the gold.
Dorin missed five of her eight shots and had to ski two penalty laps, putting France more than a minute behind.
However, Bailly overtook Henkel near the end to give France the silver.
"Andrea was not in the best shape, so I just tried to catch up and I achieved that," Bailly said.
Henkel lost some valuable seconds when she pulled up at one point, looking around to make sure she was going the right way after she saw someone signaling at her on the side of the course.
"I was totally confused," she said. "I was just looking around. I didn't know, is this the right way or isn't. But it did not affect the medal."
Sleptsova credited the large of number of Russian fans with helping them get the victory.
"We were overwhelmed, the entire stadium seemed to be covered in Russian flags," Sleptsova said. "Our spirits soared, and that gave us strength."