Belarus' Domracheva wins third-straight Olympic biathlon gold

Domracheva wins 3rd straight Olympic biathlon gold
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) Darya Domracheva of Belarus completed an unprecedented hat trick of Olympic gold medals in women's biathlon by winning the 12.5-kilometer mass start race on Monday.

Domracheva, who also won the pursuit and individual race last week, took the lead for the first time after four minutes and stayed ahead of the field after the first shooting.

She missed one target before finishing in 35 minutes, 25.6 seconds.

Gabriela Soukalova of Czech Republic was 20.2 seconds behind for silver and Tiril Eckhoff of Norway finished 27.3 behind for bronze.

Domracheva is the first woman to win three biathlon gold medals at the same Olympics. Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen has the overall record, with four gold medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Domracheva is also expected to compete in the relay, but Belarus is not among the favorites for gold.

Retired Kati Wilhelm is the only other woman with three biathlon golds, but the German won them over two Olympics - the sprint and the relay in 2002 and the pursuit four years later.

Domracheva faulted on the fourth target in her final shooting, but as her nearest rival, Soukalova, also missed, the Belarusian could still carry a 14.7-second lead into her final 2.5K lap.

She stretched that lead and crossed the finish line while waving her right pole above her head in celebration.

One of the pre-race favorites, Tora Berger of Norway, fell and slid into the safety netting after crossing her skis two minutes into the race.

Berger stayed clean in the first shooting but missed four targets afterward and finished 1:42.2 behind Domracheva in 15th.

More athletes fell because of the difficult conditions. Drizzle in the morning hours and fog until the afternoon softened the track, which had already been weakened by the mild weather last week.

Olga Zaitseva slid off course in a sharp right turn and the Russian had to hike back a few meters to pick up the pole she had lost. Elisa Gasparin of Switzerland also crashed.

The race was in doubt for most of the day due to thick fog hanging over the mountains above Sochi, which led to the men's 15K mass start being postponed until Tuesday.

That race, already moved from Sunday evening, was delayed in the morning and then called off in the afternoon, just before clouds started moving out of the biathlon venue.

In the mass start format, the field is limited to 30 competitors, with the top 15 of the overall World Cup standings and all medalists so far these Games guaranteed a starting place. The remaining spots are allocated based on performance during the first three events of the Sochi Olympics.