Friday, February 17, 2006

GUEST POST -- Viva La France

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:26 AM |  

From Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press --

Forget that it’s home to Dominique de Villepin and Marcel Marceau. Frenchwoman Florence Baverel-Robert scored a stunning victory in the women’s 7.5K Sprint event Thursday at the Olympic biathlon venue in San Sicario, less than 10K across the Alps from her homeland.

Both Baverel-Robert and Bronze winner Lilia Efremova of Ukraine were surprise medalists. Only second-place finisher Anna Carin Oloffson of Sweden was a favorite going into the race, in which biathletes ski three loops, stopping to shoot twice, first prone and then standing. Despite her country’s many transgressions on the international stage, Baverel-Robert was a feel-good story. Her mother died when she was young and her father raised her. In 15 years of competition, the 31-year-ld Frenchwoman had never won. That was not the case on Thursday, as she put on a stellar performance. She completed the course in 23 minutes, 21.4 second and hit all 10 targets.

“I can’t believe it,” she told Reuters. “I really wasn’t expected to win. I thought I had better chances in the individual race. It’s a funny sport.”

Indeed. Swede Oloffson missed one shot during the prone shoot and had to ski one 150-meter penalty loop and finished 2.4 seconds behind Baverel-Robert. Efremova shot clean and was 6.6 seconds behind in third.

These times are important because they’ll be used to start what is perhaps the most exciting biathlon event — the pursuit — scheduled for Saturday (5:30 a.m. CST for those of you who don’t stay up too late Friday, drowning your sorrows over the Gopher loss to Denver in ice hockey at Mariucci Arena). In the 10K race for women (12.5K for men later in the day), Baverel-Robert will start first. Oloffson will start 2.4 seconds after her, followed by Efremova 6.6 seconds behind, and so on. The other competitors will “pursue” her, thus the name of the event. It truly is an exciting race to watch.

I was up at 5 a.m. Thursday — much to my wife’s annoyance — yelling obscenities in German in support of my girl, Uschi Disl of Germany, the most decorated female biathlete in Olympic history with eight medals. She was third out of the gate and finished ahead of the other two biathletes ahead of her, but was slowed by a driving snow that subsided about halfway through the race. Her time of 24 minutes, 29.1 seconds only held the top spot briefly. Disl ultimately finished in 34th, 1 minute, 57.7 seconds behind the Frenchwoman.

At one point during the coverage, it looked like Deutschland Uber Alles again as German women held all the top spots. Kati Wilhelm skied remarkably well, but missed a shot during the standing shoot and finished in 7th, 18.4 seconds behind Baverel-Robert, a deficit she can easily make up in Saturday’s pursuit race. Germany’s Martina Glagow (her Web site is a must-visit for people like Brian “Saint Paul” Ward), who took the Bronze Medal in Sunday’s 15K individual race, also missed one shot while shooting from the standing position in the 7.5K Sprint race and finished 1 minute, 4.5 seconds back in 17th.

Other notable performances included Russian Svetlana Ishmouratova, who won the Gold Medal in Sunday’s 15K race. She missed one target on Thursday in the 7.5K Sprint a finished 10th, 38.9 seconds back, again not an insurmountable deficit in Saturday’s Pursuit race. Rachel Steer put in the best performance of the American biathletes in the 7.5K sprint. She missed one shot during the prone shoot and finished 35th, one spot behind Turbo Disl, and will start Saturday’s Pursuit race 1 minute 58.2 seconds behind Baverel-Robert.

[The Captian apologizes to all true biathlon fans . . . from all quarters. I spent most of yesterday at the Capitol and an evening school board meeting and didn't post Mark's piece yesterday.]