After becoming the first female biathlete in history to win three titles at the same Olympic Winter Games, at Sochi 2014, Darya Domracheva was absent from the competitive arena for a long period, initially on account of illness. In 2016 she married Ole Einar Bjørndalen and gave birth to baby daughter Xenia, before making a triumphant return, helping Belarus win relay gold at PyeongChang 2018 to take her gold medal tally to four, a record for women’s biathlon.
Born in Minsk on 3 August 1986, Domracheva was four when she moved to Nyagan in Siberia, a new town that her architect parents were helping to build. She grew up just a short distance from Khantyi-Mansiisk, one of the hotbeds of world biathlon. Having taken up skiing at the age of six, she joined the newly opened Nyagan Biathlon School in 1999, proving so good at the sport that she was obliged to compete with the boys, whom she beat on a regular basis, an early sign that she was destined for greatness.
Domracheva returned to Minsk in 2003 and won the sprint and pursuit titles at the Junior World Championships two years later. She made her IBU World Cup debut at the age of 20 in 2006, and burst into the elite in the 2008/09 season, earning a string of podium finishes. Prompted by her success, in January 2009 she declared: “I want to be an Olympic champion and I’m going to work very hard to make that happen.”
At Vancouver 2010, she took the bronze medal in the 15km individual and followed up shortly afterwards with her first two IBU World Cup wins, in the sprint and pursuit, in Kontiolahti (FIN). Next came her first crystal globe, in the pursuit, followed by two world titles – in the pursuit in Ruhpolding (GER) in 2012 and the mass start in Nove Mesto (CZE) a year later. By the time Sochi 2014 came around, Domracheva was firmly established as one of the world’s leading female biathletes and a favourite at all distances. When the chance to make history beckoned, she did not disappoint.
She began her second Games in inauspicious fashion, finishing ninth in the sprint, 31.8 seconds behind the winner, Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia. It was a different story in the pursuit 48 hours later, however, with the Belarusian racing into a 15-second lead only 900 metres into the race. After going clear at the first standing shoot, Domracheva took control, making her power count and coming home more than 37 seconds ahead of Norway’s Tora Berger.
Three days later she offered up an even more impressive demonstration of her ability in the 15km individual. So far clear of the field at the second standing shoot, the Belarusian champion could afford the luxury of missing a shot and taking a penalty loop and still win her second Olympic gold with plenty to spare, crossing the line one minute and 15 seconds clear of Switzerland’s Selina Gasparin.
Domracheva won her third gold medal of Sochi 2014 a few days later, turning on the power again in the mass start and making light of a miss at the final shoot to coast home 20 seconds clear of the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Soukalova. As a result, she completed an unprecedented hat-trick in women’s biathlon and became only the fifth woman ever to win three golds at the same Games and one of only three athletes to complete a golden treble in Russia, along with short track speed skater Victor An and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen.
Building on her exploits at Sochi 2014, Domracheva became the world No1 in the 2014/15 season on the back of nine wins in all events. As well as claiming the overall World Cup title, she picked up a small crystal globe in the sprint. A bout of mononucleosis caused her to miss the following season, while 2016 brought her marriage to Norwegian biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjørndalen and the birth of their daughter Xenia.
Domracheva clamped on her skis again in a World Cup event in January 2017, and despite not being at her best she still managed to win silver behind Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier at the IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen (AUT) a month later.
Domracheva warmed up for PyeongChang 2018 by winning a World Cup sprint race in Hochfilzen in December 2017 and then a mass start in Anterselva (ITA) the following month, her 30th individual career win. With the support of her husband, one of the Belarus coaching staff, Domracheva began her PyeongChang 2018 campaign with a silver in the mass start, finishing 19 seconds behind Slovakia’s Anastasia Kuzmina.
A few days later the Belarusian teamed up with Nadezdha Skardino, Iryna Kryuko and Dzinara Alimbekava in the 4x6km relay, taking over on the anchor leg with her quartet in fourth place, behind Poland, France and Italy. After shooting clear in the prone, she took the lead and then streaked away from the field to win a fourth Olympic gold - a record for women’s biathlon.
On being told of her achievement, Domracheva said: “It’s very nice to know. It means that I made the right decision to start skiing all those years ago and the right decision to start training for biathlon. I’ve doubted myself a few times along the way, but days and medals like these show that it’s important to believe in yourself, believe in your team and overcome hurdles. If you do that, then doors will open for you.”
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