Martin Fourcade didn't believe it. Still doesn’t.
“I’m still waiting for them to tell me that I’m not the winner,” Fourcade said Sunday.
Fourcade thought it was happening again. He was going to be sunk by a fraction of centimeters. Again.
Just like Sochi four years ago, when he lost gold by less than three centimeters in the mass start.
This time, though, the metric system was on his side.
Fourcade overcame two missed targets and a tumble after his first penalty loop to beat Simon Schempp in a dramatic photo finish in the men’s 15km mass start at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in PyeongChang, South Korea. They finished in 35 minutes, 47.3 seconds.
“I thought about that during the whole last loop because I thought this would happen again,” Fourcade said, “and when I saw the line, I had a deep feeling that I’d lost.
"For now, it's not real yet. I'm just waiting to be back in my room, open my phone and see that it's real. But now, it feels like I'm in a dream."
After both Fourcade and Schempp missed a target in the fourth shooting bout – it was Fourcade’s second of the race – Fourcade headed toward the final 100 meters slightly ahead of Schempp.
Schempp, however, closed the gap and the two came to the finish line neck-to-neck.
Fourcade, as he slid past the line, reached out his left foot ahead of Schempp and then slammed his pole into the group thinking he had lost the race by a matter of centimeters.
The line, Fourcade thought, belonged to Schempp, but the German thought otherwise.
“I chose my corridor really late because I knew that if he saw me go right or left,” Schempp said, “he would change his corridor. I chose really late, so I was behind him before the corridors.
“I needed a little bit more speed than him, but my speed, at the end, was good in the sprint but the line came maybe five meters too soon.”
The 29-year-old Fourcade captured his first gold medal in the mass start after grabbing silver in the past two Winter Olympics, including the photo finish loss to Emil Hegle Svendsen in Sochi.
Svendsen skied his way to a bronze medal Sunday, closing 11.2 seconds behind Fourcade and Schempp. Svendsen, 32, hit 18 of his 20 targets.
The gold is Fourcade’s second in four individual events at the PyeongChang Olympics.
He placed eighth in the men’s sprint and then dominated the pursuit one day later.
In Thursday’s individual event, Fourcade finished fifth – another disappointing showing.
Sunday had all the makings of another frustrating performance for Fourcade. He missed once on his first shooting bout and then fell after skiing his penalty loop, but he kept his composure.
With the win, Fourcade equaled the French Olympic record of four gold medals – it was his sixth medal overall. He shares that title with fencers Christian d’Oriola and Lucien Gaudin.
“It means a lot because today,” Fourcade said, “I’m the best French Winter Olympian and that means a lot to me because I’m a big fan of sport and I grew up watching the Olympics on TV.
“So to be the best French athlete at the Olympics is not something I was fighting for, but I’m so proud of. … But it was not the aim before I came to the Olympics.”
For Schempp, 29, the silver medal is the German’s first individual Olympic medal. He also won silver as part of Germany’s men’s relay team in Sochi.
“I waited a long time here at the Olympics and finally,” he said, “I get my medal in the last individual race so I’m really satisfied with myself. I was happy to get one of these three medals.”
Norwegian biathlete Johannes Thingnes Boe, who won gold in the men’s individual and was one of the favorites entering the mass start, counted himself out early with three missed targets in his second shooting bout. Boe finished 16th, closing at 37 minutes, 7.3 seconds and 17 of 20 shooting.
No Americans qualified for the mass start.
Biathlon has Monday off before returning to Tuesday (6:15 a.m.) with the mixed relay.