KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Darya Domracheva’s dream to be a flag bearer for Belarus at the Sochi Olympics has come true, just four days after she turned down a chance to carry the red and green flag in the games’ opening ceremony.
The biathlete was asked to carry the Belarus flag during the first celebratory night Friday. She was honored and said she would have loved to have done it, but coaches advised her not to.
But Domracheva grabbed the next chance to wave her country’s colors with both hands as she skied the final meters in celebration on her way to victory at the women’s 10-kilometer biathlon pursuit on Tuesday.
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"You can easily get sick when you’re standing so long in the cold," Domracheva said about the opening ceremony. "I am so happy that I got the chance to carry our flag today."
Domracheva put in a dominating performance in the pursuit, taking the lead after three kilometers and never looking back. She started 32 seconds behind sprint champion Anastasiya Kuzmina, but overtook her Slovakian rival after the first shooting and raced ahead.
Even though she missed the 20th and final target, she still easily won the gold medal with a time of 29 minutes, 30.7 seconds.
Tora Berger of Norway was 37.6 seconds behind to take silver. Teja Gregorin trailed Domracheva by 42.0 to claim bronze, Slovenia’s first ever biathlon medal at the Olympics.
"I was really calm and confident before the race," Domracheva said. "I was the hope of my country. I didn’t read the papers but I felt that everyone had hopes on me. I felt their nerves. But I just tried to be myself and rely on myself as I have a lot of experience."
It was Domracheva’s second Olympic medal but first gold. She won bronze in the 15K individual race in Vancouver four years ago.
Shooting conditions at the Laura biathlon center were perfect, with no wind, but the track caused many athletes problems because days of mild temperatures had softened the snow.
Domracheva finished ninth in Sunday’s sprint, which determined the start order and interval for the pursuit. But she attacked from the start and at the first shooting had already reduced her deficit to Kuzmina to just 10 seconds.
"I tried very hard to learn from all my mistakes (in the sprint)," Domracheva said. "I am really happy that my shooting was so good today."
After winning the sprint, Kuzmina began as one of the favorites, thanks to her head start. But she missed one target in her second shooting, and another in her final round. That forced her to ski penalties of 250 meters, leaving her out of contention for the medals. She finished sixth, 58.4 behind Domracheva.
Berger started the race 34 seconds after Kuzmina but, like Domracheva, steadily worked her way forward. The Norwegian missed one target in her final shooting but admitted she still wouldn’t have won the race had she stayed clean.
"Darya was really strong today. She was really the best," said Berger, who won gold in the individual race in Vancouver in 2010. "I was fighting hard and shooting good. Only the last shooting I am not so happy with."
Berger’s silver sent Norway to the top of the biathlon medal table following the gold won by Ole Einar Bjoerndalen in the men’s 10K sprint Saturday.
Gregorin earned bronze thanks to a strong final lap, when she edged Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic by 5.6 seconds.
"That was the hardest loop I have ever run," said Gregorin, who has won two silver medals at world championships. "When I saw I could get a medal, I pushed harder, harder, harder."
Gregorin is the only female biathlete from Slovenia at the Olympics, meaning she can’t compete in the women’s relay or even in the mixed event, where each team consists of two men and two women.
"It’s not good that I am the only one," she said. "We can’t do the mixed relay. That’s not good for our team."
The next women’s biathlon event at the Sochi Olympics is the 15K individual race on Friday.