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Saturday, February 16, 2002
Pyleva wins forst gold of career

Associated Press

MIDWAY, Utah -- With top biathletes Magdalena Forsberg and Liv Grete Poiree missing the podium for the first time this season, Russian Olga Pyleva won the gold medal in the women's 10K pursuit Saturday.

Pyleva missed only one of 20 shots at the Soldier Hollow range and completed the course in 31 minutes, 7.7 seconds to win her first gold.

While discussing the race in an interview room, Pyleva's cell phone rang. It was her mother calling from Siberia, where it was the middle of the night. The call brought Pyleva to tears.

"She was crying also, on the other side of the line," Pyleva said.

Kati Wilhelm of Germany missed four times but made a strong comeback to take the silver. Irina Nikoultchina of Bulgaria won the bronze.

It was another disappointing day for the Americans. Kara Salmela was the top U.S. finisher, in 45th, and Andrea Nahrgang was 47th. They missed eight shots between them. Rachel Steer missed six of her 10 shots and was forced to drop out after she was lapped.

Sweden's Forsberg has won the last five World Cups, and was expected to win as many as three gold medals here. But she has just two bronzes after three individual events. Poiree, a Norwegian and the wife of French biathlete Raphael Poiree, has one silver. Before Saturday, one or the other had finished either first, second or third in every World Cup and Olympic race on the circuit this season.

They were 1-2 entering the last shooting stage, where the athletes empty a clip of five .22-caliber bullets from a standing position. Both women missed twice, opening the door for Pyleva.

"I was looking back all the time, and just hoping for a medal," she said.

Wilhelm, who won the 7.5K sprint and thus started first in Saturday's race, blew her 17-second lead in a hurry when she missed three shots on the first stage, which was from the easier prone position. She hit all but one target the rest of the way, though, and skied well to make it close.

"I had no pressure today because I had already won the gold," Wilhelm said. "I've improved a lot in my shooting, but today I missed three in the first shooting, and I thought it was over."

Wilhelm left the final shooting station with the lead, but Pyleva caught her and won by 5.3 seconds.

"In the biathlon, nothing is fair. I'm just lucky today," Pyleva said. "Everything came together."