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Epic Olympic battle shines spotlight on biathlon at Beijing Games


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The Frenchman fared better in the first week. The Norwegian succeeded in second.

The biathlon competition at this year’s Olympics, held amid fierce winds and freezing temperatures in the mountains far from Beijing, produced an epic battle between two of the sport’s best.

Quentin Fillon Maillet came close to becoming the first man to win six medals in a single Winter Olympics, winning five and finishing fourth in a sixth race. The Frenchman won two gold and three silver medals.

Johannes Thingnes Boe also won five medals, as did her Norwegian teammate Marte Olsbu Roeiseland in the women’s races. Together they helped Norway win a record six gold medals – one more than Germany at the Turin Olympics in 2006.

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Johannes Thingnes Boe of Norway crosses the finish line in the men’s 15 kilometer mass start biathlon at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“Quentin dominated the first week, Johannes the second,” said Martin Fourcade, five-time Olympic champion in French biathlon. “They are two great athletes and Quentin deserves to be among them. He has worked hard to come here as a leader and he has lived up to that status.”

The conditions made it difficult for everyone in a sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting. The wind made even the best snipers struggle to hit targets in some races.

The Boe family will return home with two suitcases full of medals. Johannes Thingnes Boe won four golds and one bronze while Tarjei Boe won two golds, one silver and one bronze.

Roeiseland won three gold and two bronze medals.

“The best athletes dominated,” said Fourcade. “There were a few surprises, but we also saw great champions show their best performances.”

Fillon Maillet’s epic battles with Johannes Thingnes Boe had their ups and downs, with each taking the lead in alternating races. Boe edged out Fillon Maillet in the mixed relay, but the Frenchman won gold in the next race – the individual – while Boe settled for bronze.

Their battle continued until the last race on Friday. Boe won it and Fillon Maillet finished just off the podium, just 13.1 seconds from that coveted sixth metal.

“It’s biathlon. What an extraordinary fortnight. Big desires for crystal now,” wrote Fillon Maillet on Instagram, referring to the end of the Olympic Games and his continued quest for the World Cup title.

Roeiseland also top the World Cup standings, but the wind played a part in some of their less than stellar results. So did teammate Tiril Eckhoff, who won the overall title last season but missed five targets in the Olympic relay and skied two penalty loops to eliminate Norway.

The Americans also missed a goal, having yet to win an Olympic medal in biathlon.

The country’s last hope was Deedra Irwin, who in her Olympic debut qualified for Friday’s mass start race. She missed four targets in her prone bouts, but did better while standing, hitting all but two. She finished 23rd.

Irwin won’t stop trying.

“We’re always chasing, every sport, every Olympics, every World Cup. We’re always chasing that top spot,” Irwin said. “I think our team is super strong and we’ve shown that the development that’s happening in the United States is getting there.

“I hope if I don’t get that Olympic medal someone else that I inspired will and I think that’s the same for all the people before me. We just want to inspire the people.”

The Boe brothers weren’t the only biathlon gold medal siblings at the Beijing Games.

Sweden’s Oeberg sisters, Elvira and Hanna, both won gold as teammates in a relay race. Elvira added two silver medals in individual events.

“I was really proud of her, a really proud big sister and happy for her after her individual silver medals,” Hanna Oeberg said after the relay victory. “But doing this together now means a lot. It’s huge.”

Tarjei Boe is the eldest of the Boe brothers. He was competing in his fourth Olympics, but had won just one medal before, at the 2010 Vancouver Games in the relay alongside biathlete great Ole Einar Bjørndalen.

He said the Beijing Games would be his last, but he expects more from his little brother.

“I saw quite early, 10 years ago or maybe earlier, that he would be unbeatable in a few years,” said Tarjei Boe. “So my goal was to earn as much as I could before he grew up, and I did that – the start of my career was pretty strong.

“Now he is by far the best athlete in the world. At this altitude on these tracks, it’s like a glove for his hand.”

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