Anastasiya Kuzmina had skied fast and shot clean. She was well positioned to win gold.
Then, in her final shooting bout, down to her final shot after hitting her first 19 targets, a little bit of doubt crept in. She took longer than usual to aim despite a clean slate up until shot No. 20.
But, on this day, Kuzmina’s skiing was just too fast for the field to catch up.
Kuzmina finally captured Olympic gold Saturday at the PyeongChang Games by winning the women’s 12.5km mass start at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“In my career, I never shoot clean four times,” Kuzmina said, “and today, after three times zero, I was reaching for my last shooting and I was worried about it.
“I’m so happy that my ski time was good enough and saved my position.”
The Slovakian finished the mass start in 35 minutes and 23 seconds, 18.8 seconds ahead of silver medalist Darya Domracheva of Belarus. Domracheva won gold in the mass start at Sochi in 2014.
The gold medal is Kuzmina’s third medal of these Games after winning silver in the women’s 10km pursuit and 15km individual event. It’s her sixth medal of her Olympic career and her third gold. She’s the first female biathlete to win gold in three straight Olympics.
“When I came here,” Kuzmina said, “I thought that I’d won gold at the previous two Olympics in the sprint and that this would be my best chance. When it didn’t happen, I was sad and nervous. But it happened (in the mass start), a different event, and it’s an incredible feeling.
“I am not sure what will happen next. At the moment, I don’t know if I will quit or how long I will compete for. I’m not sure I will be able to survive the next four years at the top.”
Kuzmina hit 19 of her 20 targets in her four shooting bouts.
Norwegian biathlete Tiril Eckhoff claimed bronze in the mass start for her fourth Olympic medal and her second individual medal. She won bronze in the mass start at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Eckhoff crossed the finish line 27.7 seconds behind Kuzmina at 35 minutes, 50.7 seconds and reached the podium despite missing two targets.
Since the event’s inception in 2006, Domracheva and Eckhoff are the only athletes to win multiple medals.
“It was a tough race – it was such high pressure,” Domracheva said. “The toughest (thing) was understanding that it was the last chance for an individual Olympic medal at these Games.
“It was so important to keep focus and continue to believe. I’m very, very happy that I’ve done that.”
In the first three women’s biathlon events in PyeongChang, there was a new star born.
Laura Dahlmeier won gold in each of the first two events and then took home bronze in the women’s 15km individual Thursday. On Saturday, Dahlmeier, who entered as the favorite, did not medal.
Dahlmeier finished in 16th place, closing the race at 37 minutes, 10.1 seconds. She was undone by two missed shots in her shooting bouts and finished over a minute-and-a-half behind Kuzmina.
It was the first event at these Games that Dahlmeier did not reach the podium.
No Americans qualified for the women's 12.5km mass start. U.S. Biathlon remains without an Olympic medal.
Biathlon continues Sunday (6:15 a.m.) with the men’s 15km mass start.