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    Thursday, February 19, 1998

    Germany makes biathlon history

     NOZAWA ONSEN, Japan (AP) -- Ursula Disl's hair turned out red, but her medal is gold, nonetheless.
     The German police border guard -- already winner of five Olympic biathlon medals but never a gold -- had gone to a hairdresser last week intending to have her hair dyed golden blonde for luck.
     No matter that the dye job didn't work as she expected. Today, Disl became the top medal winner in Olympic biathlon history, leading a come-from-behind quartet that took revenge on archrival Russia in the women's 30-kilometer relay.
     The Germans only pulled ahead after the third leg, overtaking a stubborn Slovak team and keeping the Russians at bay to finish in 1 hour, 40 minutes, 13.6 seconds.
     Ruler of biathlon relays past, Russia had to settle for silver in 1:40:25.2, while superb shooting on the last two legs gave Norway the bronze in 1:40:37.3.
     Disl entered the record books with her sixth biathlon medal. The victory also allowed Germany to catch up with Norway in the biathlon medals race here.
     "To have a gold in the Olympics is the greatest thing one can have in one's life in sport," said Disl, 27. "I think this evening we have reason to party."
     Disl almost had reason to go home despondent. A pole slipped from her fingers when a competitor skied over it, and the time lost in retrieving it put her near the back of the pack. Her aim was off at the shooting rang.
     But she made up for it with her skiing, and the Germans made 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.
     Skiing third, Katrin Apel peeled off five quick hits during her first shooting to scoot ahead of Slovakia's Tatiana Kutlikova. From then on, it became a German-Russian duel, with Norway moving up fast after 10-for-10 marksmanship by Gunn Margit Andreassen.
     At the last firing session, German anchor Petra Behle had to fire two extra shots to one by Olga Romasko. But the 29-year-old Behle, skiing one of her last biathlon races before retirement, bolted ahead with a 13.7-second lead time.
     On the last stretch, Behle looked back just before the end, grabbed a German flag and skied slowly over the finish line as Romasko struggled home.
     The German women's team has been smarting since a humiliating defeat in the relay at the hands of the Russians in the 1994 Lillehammer games.
     The victory also ended Disl's elusive pursuit of a gold medal, one she missed by seven-tenths of a second in the earlier 7.5K sprint, and by almost equally close margins in the last two Olympics.
     The six medals -- one in Albertville, two in Lillehammer and three in Nagano -- move Disl ahead of Alexander Tikhanov of the Soviet Union, who won four golds and a silver in four Winter Games.
     "I hope it brought us luck today," said Disl, referring to her hair. Hoping to break her long gold medal jinx, Disl went to a hairdresser to make her hair a golden hue. But the job was botched and she emerged a redhead.
     The United States was 15th among the 17 starters.