Martin Fourcade Regroups; Wins Pursuit Gold
Martin Fourcade of France, with a single penalty today, regrouped after a disappointing eighth place in yesterday’s sprint to defend his Olympic pursuit title this evening, crossing the finish line in 32:51.7. Sebastian Samuelsson of Sweden won the battle for the Silver medal over Germany’s Benedikt Doll in a last loop battle, finishing 12 seconds back to the German’s 15.1 seconds back. Both Samuelsson and Doll had a single penalty.
Disappointment and Understanding Leads to Gold
Fourcade explained his post-sprint feelings that led to today’s Gold medal. “Last night I wasn’t frustrated, I was disappointed. I couldn’t understand what happened; I had worked so hard to be good in the sprint. I wanted to win that competition more than any other…after the competition I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. This morning I saw a picture (from the competition) and realized the wind was not like I thought it was. Then I understood it wasn’t bad luck, but my own mistake…and I found the strength to compete today.”
Title Defense Similar to Sochi
Fourcade’s victory made him the first man to defend an Olympic pursuit title. He won the pursuit in Sochi four years ago, in similar circumstances; finishing sixth in the sprint, Fourcade came back to win the pursuit, also with one penalty, 14.1 seconds ahead of the field.
Tarjei Boe won a sprint battle with Germany’s Simon Schempp for fourth place, with the Norwegian, 1:02.6 to 1:02.7 back. Both had three penalties. Benjamin Weger of Switzerland, with two penalties was just behind them in sixth, 1:03.1 back.
Winds and No Clean Shooting
Not much changed in the two hours between the women’s and men’s pursuits, still windy and cold. As in the women’s pursuit earlier, the buffeting winds spared no one, with not one man of the field of sixty shooting clean.
Peiffer Leads in Prone Stages
Peiffer stayed in the lead over the first loop, skiing comfortably while Fourcade pushed the pace to move into second by the first prone. The German cleaned while Fourcade picked up a penalty. Eberhard matched the sprint champion and left just stride in front of Peiffer, with Doll in third but 12 seconds off the pace. The top eight men all cleaned with Fourcade in ninth, 27 seconds back. Eberhard led the next loop, with Peiffer shadowing him, with the chase group about 15 seconds back. The leaders reversed and Peiffer set up on lane one for the second prone; he cleaned and was gone. Lesser and Tarjei cleaned for the second time to move into second and third, with Schempp, also clean on Tarjei’s shoulder. Fourcade cleaned very slowly and was now up to sixth as the field headed for the first standing stage.
Fourcade Takes Control
Peiffer and Fourcade were now 1-2. Peiffer shot first as the defending Olympic pursuit champion began his slow tempo. Peiffer went to the penalty loop; Fourcade cleaned and took the lead, as all of the other men in the top group had a penalty. The French star now had a 20 second lead over Peiffer in second and Tarjei in third, with Samuelsson, Schempp, Doll and Bjoentegaard in a pack about 30 seconds back.
He admitted this stage was the critical point in the competition. “I think the key time in the competition was the third shooting stage, because the wind was very tricky. It was probably the most difficult stage today. I took a bit more time to fire my first shot. When I realized I was the only one who shot clean, I knew that my future was on my hands only.”
5-for-5, Fist Pump, Flag, Victory
Over the next 2.5K the leader continued to pick up speed, further pulling away from the field. He came to the stadium all alone once again, calm, cool and focused. The targets went down quickly, 5-for-5. He turned to the crowd, gave his familiar fist pump and left for the last loop for a final 2.5K victory loop. With plenty of time, he grabbed a French flag and celebrated down the finish straight, becoming the first man to defend an Olympic pursuit title.
Samuelsson Pulls Away for Silver
Behind him, Doll and Samuelsson both cleaned. They left both in medal positions, more than 40 seconds ahead of Weger in fourth. The young Swede tried to catch the German, finally closing the gap on the penultimate climb to get even. Then on the final small uphill just before the long downhill to the finish, the 20-year-old Samuelsson flew past Doll and continued to pull away to take the Silver medal, celebrating as he crossed the finish line.
Good Skis; Shouting Wax Technicians
Last year’s IBU Rookie of the Year explained how the last loop unfolded, leading to his Silver medal. “For me, my goal was to catch up after the last standing shooting. I knew that if I could catch him on the top, I knew I had good skis. The plan was to stay behind because of the wind for a bit longer, but my technicians were shouting a lot at the top of that hill I made my move.”
Doll and the Last Loop
Doll graciously gave the nod and a tip of his hat to his younger rival in their last loop battle, realizing the Swedish junior was the better man today. “I felt very weak in the last loop. I saw Sebastian behind me; my legs felt weaker and weaker in the long uphill as he was coming closer. I was trying to think of a new tactic for a finish-line sprint, but then he passed me entering the stadium. I could not stay with him. He was faster and had more power left, so he is the rightful Silver medalist.”