WHISTLER, British Columbia - Both men saw the 15-kilometer mass start biathlon race as a shot at redemption for an awful Winter Olympics.
Unlike American Tim Burke, Russia’s Evgeny Ustyugov delivered.
The World Cup leader won Russia’s first gold medal in a men’s Olympic biathlon race in 16 years when he captured the event yesterday, atoning for poor shooting and sluggish skiing in his previous three races.
“I realized that it’s high time we broke out of this vicious cycle, and God smiled upon us today,’’ said Ustyugov, the first Russian man to win biathlon gold at the Games since Sergei Tchepikov took the 10K sprint in Lillehammer in 1994.
Ustyugov shot cleanly to finish in 35 minutes 35.7 seconds, beating Martin Fourcade of France by 10.5 seconds. Pavol Hurajt of Slovakia won the bronze, finishing 16.6 seconds behind Ustyugov.
Like Ustyugov, Burke also donned the coveted yellow jersey as the overall World Cup leader this season. But he couldn’t turn his into gold.
Burke, hoping to provide a biathlon breakthrough at the Olympics for the United States, finished 18th.
“It’s a complete disappointment,’’ Burke said. “I came here with three podium finishes, ranked third in the World Cup, had never been outside the top 30 in a race. It was awful.’’
Fourcade gave France five biathlon medals at the Winter Olympics for the first time ever. He took the silver despite missing three targets, including two on the first prone shoot and one on the final standing shoot.
“I thought after the very first shooting portion that I was done,’’ said Fourcade, who caught up to the leaders by his fourth trip to the shooting range and sped into second place on his final lap.
“You see this childhood dream that all of a sudden is becoming a reality,’’ Fourcade said.
Like Ustyugov, Hurajt hit all 20 targets.
Ustyugov, who finished fourth in the 20K and 15th in the sprint and pursuit, where he missed 4 of 20 shots, improved both his ski times and his accuracy to win his first Olympic medal.
“I was very disappointed after the last race, and I know that one shot made the difference,’’ he said. “So I wanted to make sure I hit every shot.’’
Burke finished with four misses - he had to ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each one - and finished 1:09 behind the winner.
Neuner pulled away from her rivals after the final shooting and had time to start celebrating as she crossed a short bridge leading into the stadium, pumping her fist to salute the German fans. She finished in 35:19.6.
Olga Zaitseva of Russia took the silver medal, finishing 5.5 seconds behind. Simone Hauswald of Germany won bronze, 7.3 seconds back.
Neuner, who won the 10K pursuit Tuesday and took silver in the 7.5K sprint, trailed by as much as 29 seconds after missing two targets in the first three shootings. But she pushed the pace and was only 7 seconds behind Zaitseva after a clean shoot in the final standing position.
She caught up with her Russian rival shortly afterward and then pulled away in the last major uphill climb.
Hauswald led going into third shooting but missed two targets to fall nearly 30 seconds behind another Russian, Olga Medvedtseva, who shot cleanly to take a narrow lead.
Medvedtseva stayed in front going into the final shooting, where she again hit all targets, but she spent so much time on the range that she left in fourth place, where she finished.