Bjoerndalen closes in on record tally

By Steve Ginsburg

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Ole Einar Bjoerndalen moved closer to becoming the all-time leading Winter Olympic medal winner when he anchored Norway to gold in the 4x7.5km biathlon relay in heavy snow Friday.

Bjoerndalen held a lead of just 0.2 seconds when he began but drew away when Austrian Christoph Sumann was forced to run a penalty loop after misfiring from the prone position.

The victory gave the 36-year-old Bjoerndalen his 11th career medal, moving him to within one of the record held by compatriot and cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie, who won eight golds and four silvers at the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Olympics.

"My shooting was fantastic," said Bjoerndalen, who plans to compete at the Sochi Games in 2014. "I went fast and skied great. I'm really satisfied with my race. It was perfect.

"I went at my maximum. I just did my job. That's me."

Austria grabbed silver and Russia bronze in the 19-team race held in difficult conditions.

After Bjoerndalen delivered a flawless display in the final round of standing shooting, his three team mates stood up and yelled in celebration as the raucous, flag-waving crowd cheered and rang cow bells.

GRINNED BROADLY

Bjoerndalen, who won a silver in Vancouver in the 20 km individual, grabbed a Norwegian flag after entering the stadium for the final time.

The Norwegian grinned all the way to the finish line before thrusting both arms skywards in joyful triumph at winning his sixth career gold medal.

Sumann, a silver medal winner in the pursuit, called the relay "the most evil race in my life."

"I felt good when I got the range and I felt Ole would start really fast with his shooting," he said. "I tried to stay clam. Then I took four shots with no hits."

"I don't know what happened. I panicked."

Norway were in seventh place after Halvard Hanevold's opening leg but soared to the front by the next exchange following superb skiing by Boe Tarjei.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)