Sharp-shooting French biathlete Martin Fourcade won his second gold medal of Sochi 2014 with a stylish victory in in the men’s individual 20km event.
Having already triumphed in the pursuit, Fourcade, the reigning world champion in the 20km, became the first French athlete to win two golds at a single Winter Games since Jean-Claude Killy at Grenoble 1968.
Germany’s Erik Lesser took silver (49:43.9), while Evgeniy Garanichev gave the home fans plenty to cheer, by taking bronze (50.06.2).
“I don’t think that I had anything to prove ahead of Sochi,” said the world number one.
“I’m just happy to have been able to share this with everyone.
“I’m getting so much out of these Games! For me the main thing is the joy of being able to realise a childhood dream.”
The Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Centre provided a stunning mountain-top setting for Fourcade’s triumph on a day that tested stamina, strength, precision and nerves to the max.
The individual event – arguably the most gruelling and dramatic in biathlon – is the one that comes down particularly hard on missed shots at the range, with biathletes incurring a one-minute penalty for every target missed.
Fourcade took this stern test in his stride, once again demonstrating unerring accuracy at the range. Remarkably, the Frenchman has now only missed three times in the course three different events (sprint, pursuit and 20km) in Sochi. Allied with his speed on skis, it was his consistency that made the ultimate difference.
Under the floodlights and in front of a vociferous and enthusiastic crowd, the athletes pushed themselves to the limit in warm weather conditions, which rendered the snow slushy under ski.
Setting off at 30-second intervals, the biathletes had four trips to the shooting range, alternating between prone and standing positions, with five targets to hit on each occasion.
The ski circuit that looped the range included a total of 705 metres of strength-sapping climbs that tested the athletes’ physical strength and stamina levels in between each visit to the range.
Every time the biathletes settled into their shooting routines, with deep breathing to calm racing hearts, poles tucked between their legs and team officials looking on with scopes, the noisy crowd fell silent in anticipation.
While thrilled at his achievements thus far at Sochi 2014, Fourcade made it clear that he had no intention of resting on his laurels.
“Now, the main goal is the relay events. I’d like to win a medal with my team-mates,” he explained.
“I’m keeping my feet on the ground. There is also the mass start to come, so that leaves me with another three chances to shine.”