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    Thursday, February 19, 1998

    Disl biggest medal winner in biathlon history

     NOZAWA ONSEN, Japan (AP) -- Ursula Disl wanted to dye her hair gold, hoping it would help her win the gold medal that's always eluded her.
     Instead, she emerged from the hairdresser last week a redhead. But on Thursday, Disl broke the 6-year jinx, leading her team to victory in the 30-kilometer relay and became the biggest medal winner in Olympic biathlon history.
     "To have a gold in the Olympics is the greatest thing one can have in one's life in sport," she said. "I think this evening we have reason to party."
     As for the botched dye job, Disl said: "I hope it brought us luck today."
     It was not easy for the 27-year-old police border guard to win her first gold and sixth overall. In fact, she almost cost her team any chance of victory when she dropped a ski pole and then needed five extra shots in the leadoff leg.
     But she was third by the end of the leg and Germany then overtook Slovakia and pulled away from archrival Russia to win in 1 hour, 40 minutes, 13.6 seconds.
     "After my poor start, I didn't think we would get a medal, but I gave it all I had and came behind from 15th to third place by the end of my leg," Disl said. "My teammates skied perfectly."
     The victory gave the Germans revenge for a record 3:57 loss to Russia in the same event four years ago. The Russians this time finished in 1:40:25.2.
     On the last leg, Petra Behle looked back just before the end, grabbed a German flag and skied over the finish line as Russia's Olga Romasko struggled home. It was Behle's last Olympic race although she said she might enter one or two more World Cup events.
     Norway, which has dominated the men's events, took the bronze in 1:40:37.3 with superb shooting and powerful skiing by two sisters -- Ann-Elen Skjelbreid and anchor Liv Grete.
     The race ended Disl's elusive chase after a gold medal, one she missed by seven-tenths of second in the earlier 7.5K sprint, and by almost equally close margins in the last two Olympics.
     Disl said another competitor skied over her pole, which she was holding too loosely, on the first slope of the course. She looked around for a coach to hand her another, but with nobody around she fumbled for her own.
     After recouping lost time by the first exchange, Disl handed off to Katrin Apel, who shot cleanly on her first time at the range and surged ahead of Slovakia's Tatiana Kutlikova. The Germans were never headed.
     The six medals -- one in Albertville, two in Lillehammer and three in Nagano -- moved Disl ahead of Aleksandr Tikhanov of the Soviet Union, who won four golds and a silver in four Winter Games.
     Slovakia finished fourth. The United States was 15th among the 17 starters.
     The Germans had to make up on the course what they lost on the range. They took 11 extra shots to nine for Russia and 10 for Norway.
     In the relay, each skier has eight shots to make five hits during the two times at the range. Only five rounds can be loaded into the magazine. The three extra have to be loaded one at a time, adding precious seconds.
     Anchored by Kristina Sabasteanski of Richmond, Vt., the American team finished in 1:48:30.2, well behind their eighth-place effort in Lillehammer.
     Skiing the first leg was Ntala Skinner of Sun Valley, Idaho, followed by Stacey Wooley of Newbury, N.H., and Kara Salmela of Richmond.
     In contrast to heavy snow and fog that halted one race and marred another, Thursday's relay was raced under clear blue skies and brought out 6,500 spectators. Only a few hundred have attended some events.
     But the track was far from ideal, slushy in some parts and icy in others. Japanese and Chinese skier tumbled trying to make it around a steep curve and Russia's Galina Koukleva also took a fall.