Kuzmina delights Slovakia with Olympic biathlon gold
Anastastiya Kuzmina left her native Russia and overcame a recent hand fracture to give Slovakia a first gold medal at Winter Olympics as the surprise winner of the women's biathlon sprint race on Saturday, dpa reported.
Kuzmina, 26, could afford one penalty loop as she skied to victory in 19 minutes 55.6 seconds over the 7.5-kilometres distance. Slovakia had previously only won one silver at the Olympics, a snowboard cross silver from Radoslav Zidek in 2006.
Six-times world champion Magdalena Neuner was narrowly beaten into second place, 1.5 seconds behind with also one missed target in the shooting range. Marie Dorin of France took bronze, 10.9 seconds off the pace although she hit all 10 targets.
Kuzmina celebrated her biggest career day. She won a world championship silver in the 2009 mass start race and was third in a 15km World Cup race this season.
"I was in good shape and the skis went well, so here I am," said the delighted Kuzmina.
Kuzmina left Russia in 2008 to compete for Slovakia to enable her two-and-a-half-year-old son Elisey to accompany her to training camps, according to the Slovakian media guide. But she insisted Saturday she is still on friendly terms with the Russian team.
Kuzmina is married to Russia-born Israeli cross-country skier Daniel Kuzman, who is also her coach.
She gained instant success with the silver at the worlds 12 months ago but her Olympic participation was doubtful when she broke her left hand in a fall after training in late 2009 in Italy.
"It was a serious injury. But I had an operation (in Austria) and it took just six weeks to heal," she said.
Neuner, meanwhile, was over the moon despite narrowly missing out on gold in her Olympic debut.
"I am very happy, it is a silver, it is great. One mistake is good," said Neuner, who is a fast skier but has a habit of missing in the shooting range.
"I was hardly nervous, very focussed and looked forward to the race."
The other Germans were not so lucky, with Simone Hauswald 26th, Andrea Henkel 27th and Kati Wilhelm 30th. The Swedish World Cup leaders also flopped, with Helena Jonsson 12th and Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek 20th.
The Olympic biathlon events continue on Sunday with the men's 10km sprint.