Pyeongchang, South Korea — France’s Martin Fourcade slammed his ski pole into the snow in disgust after sliding through the finish line, thinking he’d just lost another Olympic gold medal to a photo finish.
But upon further review, replays showed Fourcade’s left boot crossed the line a few centimeters ahead of Germany’s Simon Schempp, giving him a dramatic victory in the 15-kilometer mass start and his second gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games.
It was a sweet win for Fourcade, who had taken silver in this same event the previous two Olympics, including after a photo finish loss by a mere 3 centimeters to Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen in the 2014 Sochi Games.
“I thought it was history repeating,” Fourcade said.
Fourcade said he was thinking about his narrow loss to Svendsen the entire last loop and was determined not to let it happen again. Still, Schempp pushed him all the way and pulled even during a frantic final 100 meters as the crowd roared.
“When I saw the line, I had a deep feeling that I’d lost,” Fourcade said. “… I’m still waiting for them to tell me that I’m not the winner. For now it’s not real yet. I’m just waiting to be back in my (hotel) room, open my phone and see that it’s real.”
It was Fourcade’s fourth career gold medal, tying him for the most gold medals by a Frenchman.
“That means a lot for me, it’s pretty emotional,” Fourcade said.
Schempp took the silver and Svendsen grabbed the bronze.
The victory also assuaged a major collapse by Fourcade in the 20-kilometer individual race Thursday when the world’s No. 1 biathlete uncharacteristically missed on his final two shots, costing him what would have been another gold medal.
Fourcade missed his final target on Sunday as well, but was able to out-ski Schempp to the finish line – barely.
“When I saw the line, I knew I’d done everything I could, but I was afraid it would happen again like in Sochi,” Fourcade said.
As both athletes lay in the snow exhausted, neither knew who won the race until more than a minute passed.
“The wait is not so tough because you know you’re guaranteed a medal and you have to be really happy because only three athletes can get a medal in one race,” Schempp said.
Schempp said he was still thrilled with the silver medal, his first of the Winter Games.
“I’m so happy,” Schempp said. “I waited a long time here at the Olympics and finally I get my medal in the last individual race so I’m really satisfied with myself.”
Germany’s Erik Lesser had the lead going into the final shoot, but missed two shots and had to do two penalty laps, opening the door for the Fourcade-Schempp showdown.
“I shot clean until the last shooting,” Lesser said. “The last shot was not so perfect. I think with one penalty I could fight for gold, silver and bronze, but not two.”
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