Fredrik Lindstroem and Emil Hegle Svendsen were neck-to-neck entering the shooting range.
Then, in the final shooting bout, everything changed.
Lindstroem weathered the conditions with just one missed target while Svendsen had difficulties, and, as a result, it was Sweden who departed the range with an uncontested breeze to the finish.
Sweden captured its first-ever men’s 4x7.5km gold medal Friday to close out the biathlon competition at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The team of Peppe Femling, Jesper Nelin, Sebastian Samuelsson and Lindstroem finished 55.5 seconds over silver medalist Norway, which picked up its 37th Olympic medal in PyeongChang.
“I remember when I was a small kid,” Lindstroem said, “and looked at the Olympics and dreamt about being there one day and now, we are Olympic champions. That’s crazy.”
Norway’s 37 medals are tied with the United States for the most medals in a single Games by a National Olympic Committee. The U.S. won 37 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Germany took bronze, reaching the podium in the relay for the seventh time in the last eight Olympics. It remains tied with Norway for the overall gold medal lead with 13 at these Games.
Behind Lindstroem’s strong final leg, Sweden won its third-ever Olympic medal in the relay and its first since 1992. Both of Sweden’s previous medals in the event were bronze.
The gold is just Sweden’s third-ever in any men’s biathlon event at the Winter Olympics.
This time, Arnd Peiffer shot clean, and this time, Peiffer redeemed the Germans in a relay event.
Peiffer skied a sturdy third leg that allowed Simon Schempp, on the final leg, to keep the Germans on the podium after a rough second leg by Benedikt Doll put them back in the relay.
Erik Lesser built a big lead for Germany on the first leg and Doll continued that on the first half of his leg, but the shooting range again proved costly for Germany.
Doll missed three targets on the second shoot, which erased a 35.7-second lead. Germany fell back to fifth place before Peiffer put the Germanys back into a competitive position.
“When I saw Arnd after the standing shoot,” Doll said, “with a clean shoot and I saw the time to the first place and I thought, ‘OK, the medal is open again.’”
On the final leg, though, the range gave Schempp fits.
Schempp, who was a late scratch in the mixed relay, missed four of his eight targets. When he entered his first bout, the Germans had a comfortable lead. Then came the misses.
By the time Schempp entered the final bout, the race had gotten away from Germany.
Peiffer, a late substitute, struggled in the range during the mixed relay and his shooting woes cost Germany a spot on the podium. Laura Dahlmeier and Lesser built huge leads on the second and third legs, respectively, but Peiffer couldn’t manage the conditions. He did, however, Friday.
“We had to fight hard for this medal and it’s never easy in the men’s relay to be on the podium,” Peiffer said. “We can be very satisfied. My best moment was when I saw Simon leaving the range in the third position and I knew it was going to be a medal, so it was the best.”
For Norway, the silver is Svendsen’s eight career Olympic medal. Svendsen is now tied with Germans Sven Fischer and Ricco Gross for the third-most medals in biathlon.
The silver is also Svendsen’s third medal of the PyeongChang Games.
“The relay’s really important for our team,” Svendsen said. “As they say, we tried to get the gold but it’s not always that easy. A medal is amazing. … It was tricky out there so a medal today is good.”
Rounding out the Norwegian team, Johannes Thingnes Boe collected his third medal of these Games, while his brother, Tarjei Boe, and Lars Helge Birkeland each got their first.
Samuelsson, of Sweden, earned his second medal of the Olympics with the gold. The gold was the first of these Olympics for Nelin and Femling.
“I have lost my voice,” Samuelsson said. “It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a dream come true. … I think that a lot of people at home (were) watching this and maybe (they’ll) get inspired by this and hopefully, we have a lot of new biathletes after this.”
The United States leaves PyeongChang failing to collect its first biathlon Olympic medal.
Team USA finished in a respectable sixth place in Friday’s relay but overall, the Americans did not live up to their own expectations. They’ll have to wait at least four more years for that medal.