Norway power to gold in debut mixed relay as Bjørndalen sets new Olympic medal benchmark

Norway rounded off a successful day at the 2014 Winter Games for its Nordic athletes by surging to victory in the mixed biathlon relay, taking their tally for the day to three golds. But there was an even more notable landmark for one member of the team as 40-year-old Ole Einar Bjørndalen won his 13th Olympic medal, more than any other athlete in the history of the Winter Games.

Joining Bjørndalen in Norway’s impressive line-up  was  Emil Hegle Svendsen, winner of the men’s mass start a day earlier, while Tora Berger and Tiril Eckhoff raced the two women’s legs.

They combined to deliver a powerhouse display, clocking 1:09:17.0  to finish 32.6 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals, to ensure that the event enjoyed a memorable Olympic debut.

A strong Czech Republic quartet (Veronika Vitkova, Gabriela Soukalova, Jaroslav Soukup, Ondrej Moravec) took silver medal in 1:09:49.6, while a delighted Italian team (Dorothea Wierer, Karin Oberhofer, Dominik Windisch, Lukas Hofer) completed the race in 1:10:15.2, ahead of the well fancied German and Russian collectives to clinch the bronze.

With the men completing skiing legs of 7.5km each, and the women racing over 6km, the event enabled the Norwegians to fully showcase their strength in depth in the biathlon.

Overcoming two errors on her visit to the shooting range, Berger still managed to steer Norway into pole position as she handed over to Eckhoff. She by, contrast delivered a faultless display of marksmanship, but was overtaken during her ski by the leading light of the Czech women’s team Soukalova, who ensured that her team-mate Soukup embarked on the third leg with a fractional advantage over Norway’s Bjørndalen.

The latter made up the deficit with a typically impeccable performance on the range and a strong ski, to, ensure that anchorman Svendsen enjoyed a 43-second advantage going into the final leg.

Svendsen delivered a solid display in the anchor role to ensure a golden finish for Norway.Bjørndalen celebrated his historic 13th medal with characteristic understatement: “It's cool. It's a big thing for me,” he said of his new record.

Meanwhile, Berger added that she had tried not to dwell on the historic importance of the event ahead of the race. “I didn't think about history, I just think it's good to get gold,” she added.

Soukalova summed up the strength of the performance from  Bjørndalen and his compatriots quite simply: “It was impossible to get the better of Norway today,” said the Czech athlete.