With snowfall slowing down his rivals, Vincent Jay of France wins biathlon gold

By Mattias Karen, AP
Sunday, February 14, 2010

In rain and snow, France’s Jay wins biathlon gold

WHISTLER, British Columbia — France’s Vincent Jay certainly doesn’t mind the fickle weather conditions plaguing these Vancouver Games.

All that snow and rain isn’t bad when it mainly falls on your rivals.

The 24-year-old capitalized on an early start number and superb shooting Sunday to win a gold medal on his Olympic debut in the men’s biathlon 10-kilometer sprint.

Jay was able to ski two of his three laps around the course before a thick sheet of wet snowflakes started coming down over Whistler Olympic Park to slow down his main rivals. After being the sixth skier to finish the interval-start race, Jay stood by and watched the pre-race favorites falter one by one.

“I was very lucky as far the weather conditions,” said Jay, who had bib No. 6 among 88 racers. “But the shooting was all my doing, and had nothing to do with the climate.”

Jay shot cleanly and quickly to finish in 24 minutes, 7.8 seconds, beating Norwegian silver medalist Emil Hegle Svendsen by 12.2 seconds. Jakov Fak of Croatia got the bronze, finishing another 1.8 seconds behind.

All three medalists were among the first 10 starters, who were able to ski their first two laps around the course before the snowfall began.

Tim Burke wasn’t as lucky.

Burke is hoping to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in biathlon, but ended up skiing in some of the worst conditions of the day. He missed three shots and finished 47th — meaning he’ll struggle to get a medal in Tuesday’s 12.5-kilometer pursuit as well. The times from the sprint carry over to that race, meaning Burke will start 2:47 behind Jay.

“It was the most unfair competition I’ve ever raced in,” Burke said. “To start there with all that snow was really frustrating.”

Jeremy Teela was the best American in ninth place despite missing two shots.

Five-time Olympic champion Ole Einar Bjoerndalen struggled more with his own shooting than the weather.

The Norwegian great’s hopes for gold No. 6 ended at the first shooting range, where he missed three shots in the prone position. He had another miss in the standing to finish 1:41.1 behind Jay in 17th place — his worst Olympic result since finishing 28th in the sprint and 36th in the individual race in Lillehammer as a 20-year-old in 1994.

His three misses from the prone position matched the most of any competitor and his four total penalties tied for second most.

“I was very bad at the first shooting,” said Bjoerndalen, who had bib No. 21. “It was not because of the conditions, it was my own mistake. It just wasn’t my day. … I did two very good rounds, but when the snow came down it was hopeless.”

So it was.

Svendsen was just leaving the shooting range for the second time when the snow started, and realized right away that it could help him win a medal.

“I thought for the guys coming in behind, it was going to be hopeless,” Svendsen said. “The conditions have played a very big role today. But that’s the way it goes. That’s outdoor sports. You can never predict what’s going to happen.”

Jay was the second surprise winner in two days at the biathlon venue — Anastazia Kuzmina of Slovakia won the women’s sprint Saturday. Jay seems right at home in Whistler, where last season he enjoyed his only World Cup victory.

“I love this place,” said Jay, who has never had another top-three finish on the World Cup circuit. “There is nothing very special about the course. There’s no great decent or uphill part of the course. But the whole thing really pleases me.”

On this day, so did the snow.

(This version CORRECTS Bjoerndalen’s previous worst Olympic finish)

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