Maria in super-charged masterclass, Bjoerndalen misses out

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SOCHI: Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch put on a skiing masterclass to defend her Olympic super-combined title Monday, but 40-year-old biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen saw his hopes of becoming the greatest ever winter Olympian stall.

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The 29-year-old Hoefl-Riesch posted a total time of 2min 34.62sec after one downhill and one slalom run on the tricky course high above the Games’ Sochi hub on the edge of the Black Sea.

She finished ahead of Austria’s Nicole Hosp at 0.40sec and US favorite Julia Mancuso, who made a key mistake halfway through the course to finish third at 0.53sec despite leading after the downhill.

Hoefl-Riesch had been fifth after the morning’s run, but put in a smooth performance in the slalom — her speciality — to take her third Olympic gold medal after combined and slalom wins in Vancouver in 2010.

“It was a big fight and it wasn’t easy because the snow was tough and bumpy. The hill was steep at the start, which I found especially difficult,” said the German.

“It didn’t feel great, but I skied fast enough. I was able to keep my skis going and didn’t break too much in the turns.”

For Mancuso, it was a fourth Olympic medal — the joint-second most for an American woman at the Winter Games.

Bjoerndalen, taking part in his sixth Games, had drawn level with compatriot Bjorn Daehlie when he clinched a 12th Olympic medal with gold in Saturday’s 10km sprint and he started the 12.5km pursuit on Monday as favorite.

But his hopes of a record 13th medal were agonizingly thwarted when he finished fourth, 1.7sec behind France’s Jean Guillaume Beatrix in third, after missing targets in the shooting stages.

World Cup leader Martin Fourcade took his first Olympic gold to give France their first title in Sochi. He finished in 33min 48.6sec, 14.1sec ahead of Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic who took silver.

Remains on course for record 13

Despite his setback, Bjoerndalen is due to race in four more events in Sochi and remains on course to reach a the magic 13 medals.

“I was impatient at the last shooting. I made three mistakes, but I stayed calm about it because next time I’ll do better,” said the Norwegian. “I was fighting and that was most important.”

Canada’s Charles Hamelin, wearing a high-tech spandex bodysuit, claimed his third Olympic gold when he won the men’s 1500m short track speed skating title.

Hamelin, 29, timed 2:14.985 to snatch the gold ahead of 17-year-old Han Tianyu of China, who took silver in 2:15.055.

Victor Ahn, 28, gave hosts Russia their first ever Olympic short track medal with bronze in 2:15.062.

It was a fifth Olympic medal for Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo, who won gold in the 1000m, 1500m and 5000m relay for South Korea in 2006, before switching nationalities.

Michel Mulder saw off a fierce challenge from his Dutch team-mates to win the 500m speed skating as the Netherlands swept the podium.

Mulder, 27, won with a combined time from his two races of 69.31sec, beating compatriot Jan Smeekens by just 0.01sec. Ronald Mulder, the twin brother of Michel, took bronze in a time of 69.46sec.

Alex Bilodeau retained his men’s moguls title with a stunning score of 26.31 as Canada continued to dominate the discipline.

Just as they had done in the women’s moguls, Canada also took silver through Mikael Kingsbury, with a score of 24.71.

On Saturday, sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe took gold and silver in the women’s event.

Alexandr Smyshlyaev (24.34) gave Russia some joy and prevented a Canadian clean sweep by pipping Marc-Antoine Gagnon (23.35) for bronze.

The 26-year-old Bilodeau, who will now retire, celebrated the win with his brother Frederic who suffers from cerebral palsy. AFP

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