By Philip O’Connor
ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -A storming display of skiing helped Quentin Fillon Maillet of France to bounce back from two misses on the shooting range as he won the men’s individual 20km gold medal at the Beijing Olympics after another action-filled race.
The World Cup leader added the solo gold to the mixed relay silver he won on Saturday, with Anton Smolski of Belarus taking the silver after a perfect display of shooting and Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe bagging the bronze.
Saturday’s bitter cold and blustery winds had disappeared as the race began in the last of the day’s blazing sunshine, with temperatures hovering just below freezing as the guide flags fluttered gently in near-perfect shooting conditions.
Boe was out second of the 92 racers, who started at 30-second intervals with 20km of tough skiing divided into five laps and four visits to the range ahead of them.
With most of the climbs on the early part of the course, there was plenty of time for athletes to reflect on their recent misses, as Boe did with his first shot of the competition.
Maillet laid down an early marker with five perfect hits but then missed twice, once prone and once standing, before turning on the afterburners to make up for the penalty minutes.
Representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Maxim Tsvetkov made the early running but he took his time and missed his last shot of the day, an error that saw him eventually end up fourth and just outside the podium places.
With Boe and Maillet having added two minutes in penalties, they attacked the ski tracks frenetically, clawing back enough time to make the medal positions, with Smolski shooting clean to split them and take silver, 14.8 seconds behind the Frenchman.
“Maybe it looked easy but it was so hard today,” Maillet said. “With two misses in the shooting I never expected the victory – maybe the podium. It was amazing.
“Four years ago it was so hard for me at the Olympic Games (in Pyeongchang). I wanted to dream of an Olympics like this. We started very well with the mixed relay, and today (raced) in a good way for the victory.”
Boe added: “I did quite a good job with bib number two. I was early on the course, fighting, and on the range. I was well prepared mentally, and I had a good feeling during the race.
“You always want to have the win, but I see so many sad faces here – they are not on the podium – so it helps a little bit because I know I am one of three who will get a medal.
“Now I want to take some recovery time, have some days off, then I look forward to sprint pursuit over the weekend.”
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor and Mitch Phillips, editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ken Ferris)