A solid fifth-place biathlon finish may have disappointed Canada's Jean-Philippe Le Guellec but proved he's got the speed to contend for an Olympic medal at Sochi.
In the 10-km sprint on Saturday, Le Guellec was 9.7 seconds behind the winner in a field of 83 of the world's best biathletes. If he had been a mere 3.3 seconds faster, he would have won bronze.
After the first full day of official competition Canada has three medals:
- Sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won gold and silver respectively in women’s freestyle mogul skiing;
- Despite a broken rib, snowboarder Mark McMorris won bronze in men’s slopestyle;
- The figure skating team is in second place to Russia and poised for a medal;
- But, the spectre of controversy dogs figure skating again.
Le Guellec knew he was running a highly competitive race, missed none of his 10rifle shots, and at points had visions of bronze in his head. "I was getting splits that were two seconds from third, six seconds from first and it was like that every time a passed a technician. And then when I crossed the line fifth, I was honestly a bit disappointed, but performance wise I could not have pushed harder on that last lap."
With half a dozen individual and sprint biathlon events remaining, he still has plenty of chances for a podium finish. "Leaving with fifth on Monday was great – nine seconds to the lead," he said. "The chances are there. Just got to jump on it."
The race ended in a surprise. Neither of the pre-race favourite – Martin Fourcade of France and Emile Hegle Svendsen of Norway – landed on the podium. The winner instead was Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who, at 40, is one of the oldest Olympians.
His victory makes him an instant legend in the sport and in his home country, handing him his 12th Olympic medal. Saturday's victory marked his third gold in the sprint. His first came way back in 1998, in the Nagano Olympics.
Calgary's Nathan Smith put in a strong performance in his Olympic debut, finishing 13th in the event. Smith finished 36.2 seconds behind his idol, Bjoerndalen, and was perfect in shooting, hitting all five shots from both the prone and standing positions.
The 13th-place finish is Smith's best 10-kilometre sprint result of the season. His previous best was 16th at a World Cup event in Annency, France.
Smith has competed at the last three World Championships, helping Canada to an eighth-place finish in the 4x7.5-kilometre relay in 2013.
But Le Guellec is Canada's best hopes for a biathlon medal, and one is sorely needed in this event. The last Canadian biathlon Olympic medal was won by Myriam Bédard in Lillehammer in 1994.
In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Le Guellec's best finish was 6th, also in the 10-km sprint. His career highlight came in late 2012, when he won gold in the world cup in Sweden.
Sochi marks the third Olympics for the 28-year-old, who is from Shannon, Que., who is known as "JP."
The sprint biathlon course at Sochi is a real crowd-pleaser because a lot of the action can be seen from the stands. The athletes, however, find it a killer because of the two steep uphill runs. Many of them collapsed when they crossed the finish line. "There's no rest on this course," Le Guellec said. "It's a continuous grind and it's really easy to start the race, be overzealous and blow up on the third lap."
With a report from Canadian Press