Braisaz-Bouchet “in shock when I crossed the finish line”
The Gold medalist overcame two first-prone penalties, then just let her mind go blank and stayed calm before shockingly winning the Gold medal. “I was almost a minute back. I was really calm in the second part of the race. I said ‘I feel good on the track and have good skis. I am leading the mass start…okay. I just focused on my race and did not care about the last shot. When I arrived at the last shooting, my mind was totally free and empty. The rifle was moving a lot. I just took the opportunities; one mistake was not too bad. I had good skis and good shape today. I was in shock when I crossed the finish line. I did not realize when I saw all the staff and coaches crying. It is a good feeling. I am really thankful for all the French team. I feel really happy and lucky…It was the first race of the Olympics when I did not think about results or medals. I just felt happy and lucky to take part in this mass start. I was happy to race today despite the conditions and the wind.”
Marketa Davidova of Czech Republic with four penalties finished in a OWG personal best fourth place, 53.4 seconds back. Kristina Reztsova of ROC, with six penalties, finished in an OWG personal best fifth place, 1:11 back. Braisaz-Bouchet’s teammate Julia Simon, also with six penalties finished in a OWG personal best sixth place, 1:22.6 back.
The last women’s competition of the 2022 Beijing OWG was a déjà vu of many of the other days at this venue, clear, sunny, a very cold -13C and the ever-present exceptionally strong winds cutting from left to right across the shooting range. The first loop was pure tactics, with Denise Herrmann leading the tightly packed group into the first prone stage. Eckhoff cleaned first leading Hanna and Olsbu Roeiseland by less than two seconds. Eleven women cleaned the stage, all leaving within 15 seconds. Dorothea Wierer was the biggest casualty of the favorites, with two penalties dropping her 55 seconds back.
Eckhoff with Olsbu Roeiseland following closely set the pace over the second loop into the second prone stage. The leaders shot slowly in the strong winds, both cleaned getting away with a 22-second lead over Simon who had a single penalty. Vanessa Hinz in fifth position, 43 seconds back was one of only three woman to remain perfect after two stages. Elvira cleaned after a first stage penalty climbing from 17th to 7th after the second stage.
The wind was whipping the snow as the leaders came to the first standing stage. Both held their first shots, with Olsbu missing two shots before Eckhoff shot, also missing two. Braisaz-Bouchet and Elvira both cleaned in five shots, with the French star side-by-side with Olsbu Roeiseland as the Norwegian left the penalty loop, and Elvira just 5 seconds back, Davidova and Eckhoff left in tandem just two seconds further back. Braisaz-Bouchet put the hammer down 1 km into the loop, putting several seconds between her and the Norwegian and the three other women, all skiing tightly packed together.
Olsbu Roeiseland described the wait before shooting. “There was so much wind. Tiril and I stood there together and I heard her breathing and I was breathing. I said, ‘okay, maybe it will be better soon.’ I did not know what to do so I just tried to shoot and had two penalty loops, but I think that was okay today.
With a 12-second lead, Braisaz-Bouchet shot fast missing only the first shot and going to the penalty loop. Behind her, everyone else was missing and that ensured that the Gold medal would go to Braisaz-Bouchet. Eckhoff and Olsbu Roeiseland after two penalties came off the loop together, 48 and 50 seconds back with Davidova 55 seconds back.
Braisaz-Bouchet skied the last loop unchallenged while Eckhoff pulled away from her teammate securing the Silver medal and Olsbu Roeiseland maintaining the Bronze medal spot. The about-to-be-Gold medalist smiled broadly as she approached the finish, looked back and grabbed a French flag, waving it with glee as she crossed the finish line.
Tiril fought her way back to the podium and the Silver medal after some rough times this season and in these Games. “I am really happy. I knew it would be a tough race. I am really happy with my prone shooting because it was so tough conditions. I tried to make it simple, did it simple, I was so happy to ski together with Marte. We had so much of a big lead on the others and then we were standing there to shoot…and we s…t our pants. It was so fun. I was thinking the same thing was going to happen as in the relay. I changed to a good mindset. I tried to bend and then shift my weight to my heels and that helped. I was so happy to have just two mistakes…I was afraid of Marte on the last loop, since she is so fast. Then I saw she was a little bit finished so I was very happy to ski alone (to the finish).”
Despite her third place, triple-Gold medalist Olsbu Roeiseland was still smiling. “Today was a really tough race. I was maybe not at my best but I tried to fight; it was so fun to race with Tiril. We raced the whole race together. The conditions in standing was really tough. I am just so happy that I caught a Bronze medal, for me it was like Gold.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni