The Russians missed Olga Pyleva only in their hearts. On the biathlon course, they didn't need her at all.
Russia upset two-time defending Olympic champion Germany in the women's 4x6-kilometer relay yesterday in Cesana, Italy, and they did it without their banished star who was tossed out of the Games and stripped of her silver medal last week for using a banned stimulant.
''We dedicate this race to Olga Pyleva," teammate Svetlana Ishmouratova said. ''Even though she's not with us, we greatly sympathize with her. We know how difficult it must have been for her to watch the race on the TV screen at home. She must feel emptiness and we really feel togetherness.
''We tried today to demonstrate by our results that we are with her, that we are all together, one strength, one power. It's the power of our friendship."
Pyleva, the only athlete caught so far in the tightest drug net in Winter Olympics history, was replaced by Anna Bogaliy. She gave her team a big lead at the first exchange and the Russians never trailed.
With target shooting so precise that the powerhouse Germans had no real opportunity to close the gap, Bogaliy, Ishmouratova, Olga Zaitseva, and Albina Akhatova covered the San Sicario course in 1 hour 16 minutes 12.5 seconds.
Germany's star-studded team of Martina Glagow, Andrea Henkel, Katrin Apel, and Kati Wilhelm -- but which didn't include Uschi Disl, second in the World Cup standings -- finished 50.7 seconds behind for the silver, and France overtook Belarus on the final leg for the bronze.
''I wanted to attack but there was no chance," Apel said. ''The Russians made a perfect race; we couldn't get close to them."
The Americans took 15th in the 18-team field, finishing more than nine minutes off the pace in Rachel Steer's final Olympic race. America's best female biathlete, Steer is retiring at age 28 after the World Cup season concludes next month. Steer's teammates included Lanny and Tracy Barnes of UMaine-Fort Kent and Carolyn Treacy of Dartmouth.
Bringing back three of the four biathletes from the gold medal-winning 2002 team, the Germans were the favorite to capture this event again, especially after Pyleva was expelled from the Games and stripped of her medal from the 15K.
''We haven't called her, but she knows we are close to her. We just don't want to disturb her," Bogaliy said.
The Russians' upset wasn't a huge surprise: ''No, they have a pretty deep team," Steer noted. Nevertheless, they were uncertain about their chances after Pyleva departed Italy in disgrace.
They needn't have worried.
But vice-skip Eva Lund was silent. And Svaerd thought something was wrong.
Not a chance.
Anette Norberg's shot -- the last of the extra end -- ricocheted off the last two Swiss rocks for a gutsy double-takeout that gave Sweden a 7-6 victory in Pinerolo, Italy, in the Olympic gold medal game. The defending world champions thrust their brooms in the air, kissed and hugged, and waved to the Swedish fans who sat through a conservative match but brought the roaring game to life in the tiebreaker.
''In the middle of the game, it's not that difficult," Norberg said. ''But during the pressure of the Olympics, it's quite a difficult shot.
''I knew if I just hit a bit of the right one, it would go where it should," she said.
''This much," she said, holding her thumb and forefinger about the width of a broom handle apart.
Canada beat Norway, 11-5, in eight ends earlier to take the bronze. Sweden opened a 5-2 lead after seven ends, or innings, of the gold medal game, and needed just to play defensively to pick up an easy victory of its own.
The Swiss scored two in the 10th and final end of regulation to force an extra round. But the Swedes had the right to throw last -- the hammer -- in the 11th, an advantage so big it is considered to be worth at least a point to the team that holds it.
Switzerland put one stone in the middle and piled guards in front of it before Swedish second Cathrine Lindahl took out two stones with one shot to get the edge back. With her first stone -- Switzerland's second-to-last of the game -- Swiss skip Mirjam Ott curled her rock around a guard, but it didn't get inside the Swedish rock that was sitting on the lip of the red 4-foot circle.
Norberg cleared one of the stones away from the front so she would have a clean shot at the target, or house, if she needed it. The Swiss talked over their options for their last stone, and Ott knocked Sweden out of the zone.
If Norberg could convert with the hammer, the gold medal was theirs.
They called a timeout.
The crowd made some noise.
And then it fell quiet again.
''I thought that she would make it," Ott said. ''In that situation, you can do nothing -- just watch, just hope. It's not very nice."
Norberg pushed out of the hack and let the rock slide. It bounced first off one yellow-handled Swiss rock and then the other, clearing them out of the scoring zone.
As it came to rest in the white 8-foot circle -- alone in the house -- the Swedes celebrated.
''The game was going back and forth, back and forth," Svaerd said. ''One end I feel like we would win. The next I feel we would lose. My legs were jumping when she made the shot, and it was the best feeling in the world."
Sweden won the bronze medal in Nagano in 1998, when the sport was promoted to full Olympic status.