Midway, Utah Feb. 18, 2002 (AP Landon Hall)--Thanks to Uschi Disl's strong skiing legs and Andrea Henkel's precise shooting eye, Germany confirmed its status as the world's best women's biathlon team.
Quickly making up time after a bad first leg, the favored Germans won their second straight gold medal in the 30-kilometer relay on Monday.
By the time anchor Kati Wilhelm finished her 7.5K portion, the early mistakes by teammate Katrin Apel had been long forgotten, as Germany completed the Soldier Hollow course in 1 hour, 27 minutes, 55 seconds. Norway won the silver, finishing 30.6 seconds back. Russia held off Bulgaria for the bronze, 1 minute, 24.7 seconds behind.
``I thought that the gold was gone because of me,'' Apel said. ``But in the end it went well, and gold is gold.''
Apel missed four shots on her second shooting stage, dropping her team to 12th place. She moved up to sixth by the time she tapped Disl on the back to start the second leg. Disl was the fastest skier on the course, and when she gave way to Henkel, Germany was back in front by 21.2 seconds.
Henkel wrapped up the victory by hitting all 10 targets with her .22-caliber rifle, boosting the lead to a commanding 38.6 seconds.
In the four events, Henkel missed just four targets out of 60.
``Definitely, the shooting is my forte,'' Henkel said. ``So you can concentrate and be calm on the shooting range, because you know it's your strong point.''
The U.S. team of Andrea Nahrgang, Kara Salmela, Rachel Steer and Kristina Sabasteanski ended a disappointing Olympics by finishing last among the 15-team field.
``I don't think any of us would tell you that we came here just to race,'' Steer said. ``This was our last chance, and we didn't want to have a bad experience.''
Wilhelm became the first woman at the Salt Lake Games with three medals; she won the sprint last week and finished second in the pursuit. Henkel, just 21, won gold in the 15K race. And Disl, competing in her fourth Olympics, won her eighth career medal, extending her record for the women's sport.
Russia was regarded as the only team with a real chance of beating the Germans, but Galina Koukleva's erratic shooting on the second leg removed any chance for the gold.
``I think my shooting was outright horrible today,'' Koukleva said. ``I define biathlon as nerves, nerves, nerves. It was a nerve-racking experience. I guess that was obvious.''
Under the rules, each biathlete fires twice, the first time prone and the second from the more difficult standing position. They get eight bullets to make five targets, but if they go through the first five in their clips, they must load each bullet individually after that. For each of the black, circular targets left standing, the skier must circle a 150-meter penalty loop situated nearby.
Germany incurred just one such penalty during the whole race, and that belonged to Apel, who emptied her clip, used up all her extra bullets and still couldn't hit the final target. Like all the German women, however, Apel is an excellent skier and quickly made up some time.
The Norwegians' only chance was for Wilhelm to falter on the last target range, and she did just that, missing two shots. But Norway's Liv Grete Poiree couldn't capitalize, missing twice as well. She left the range 42.8 seconds back, with no hope of catching Wilhelm.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press