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Russian Women Shoot Biathlon Relay Gold
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The Russian biathletes demonstrated their superb shooting skills here Thursday, snatching the gold medal of the women's 4X6km biathlon relay at the Turin Olympic Games.

The Russian team, led by 15km individual winner Svetlana Ishmouratova, recorded the highest shooting accuracy of the race with only two missed shots out of 40. They won the race by a comfortable margin of 50.7 seconds.

Russia raced without Olga Pyleva, who was expelled from the Turin Games after a positive result in a doping test. Pyleva had raced in four of the past five World Cup relays for Russia.

But the absence of Pyleva didn't affect Russia's performance. The Russians team, who started with Annan Bogaliy and finished with Albina Akhatova, dominated the race ever since they started.

Bogaliy and Ishmouratova each lost one shot in shooting, but made it up with spare bullets. The other two Russians Olga Zaitseva and Akhatova shot clean.

Ishmouratova was excited with her second biathlon gold. "Before we came here, we knew we could get gold in the relay, but I couldn't have imagined that I could get gold in the individual as well. Having two gold medals in this Olympics makes this the best day of my life," she said.

Ishmouratova said she did not expect the Russian team to take the lead from the beginning. "I couldn't have hoped to have started the race in this way, thanks to Anna (Bogaliy) we had such a big advantage over the German team."

The Germans had been following the Russians closely during the first two legs. But their chance for the gold slipped away when its third skier Katrin Apel missed three shots and failed to save it with spare rounds.

Apel had to run a 150m loop penalty, which widened the time difference with Russia to 1:10 minutes and made it impossible for the last skier Kati Wilhelm to catch up.

Germany, with World Cup overall leader Kati Wilhelm and two-time Turin Games silver medalist Martina Glagow, settled for the silver in 1:17:03.2.

"I wanted to attack but there was no chance. The Russians made a perfect race. We couldn't get close to them," Apel Katrin said after the race.

France surpassed Belarus at the last leg and took the bronze with surprise.

After three legs, the French team lagged 16.6 seconds behind Belarus, and Sandrine Bailly fought the medal back by overtaking Belarussian Olena Zubrilova and winning the bronze medal by 40.9 seconds.

"I believed in my teammates. I knew it wasn't over. I started really fast to try to catch the Belarussian. At the first shooting I was very nervous and at the second I said to myself, 'Sandrine slow down and shot like in training," she said.

"This is a team medal. We are four women but with a whole team behind them. It's a shared medal."

In the biathlon women's relay, four competitors ski 6km each with two shooting bouts -- standing and prone. Each athlete carries six spare rounds, three for each shooting out.

If all five targets are not knocked down in the first five rounds, the competitor will use a maximum of three rounds attempting to hit the remaining targets. For each target left standing the competitor must ski a 150m penalty loop.

(Xinhua News Agency February 24, 2006)

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