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    Thursday, February 19, 1998

    German biathlete finally strikes gold

     NOZAWA ONSEN, Japan (AP) -- When Ursula Disl fumbled for her dropped ski pole and then fired off five poor shots, the German figured her six-year quest for an Olympic biathlon gold medal had failed.
     Days earlier, Disl had missed a gold by seven-tenths of a second. And after her shaky start as the first leg of the 30-kilometer relay, gold seemed a longshot.
     That's when she shrugged off the lost time and charged ahead.
     "After my poor start, I didn't think we would get a medal," Disl said. "But I gave it all I had and came behind from 15th to third place by the end of my leg. My teammates skied perfectly."
     They did. And when anchor Petra Behle skimmed across the finish line Thursday waving a German flag, Disl's quest was over. She had won her first gold and her sixth overall medal, making her the biggest 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," Disl said. "I think this evening, we have reason to party."
     The victory was made extra special because it came at the expense of archrival Russia, which four years ago had beaten Germany by a record margin.
     The Germans finished this time in 1 hour, 40 minutes, 13.6 seconds. Russia was 12 seconds behind and the Norwegians finished third, 21 seconds behind the winner.
     Overtaking a surprisingly tough Slovak team, the Germans pulled ahead only after the third leg when Katrin Apel shot cleanly while Slovakia's Tatiana Kutlikova needed two extra bullets during the first shooting.
     In the relay, each skier has eight shots to make five hits during two stops at the rifle range. Only five rounds can be loaded into the magazine. The three extra have to be loaded one at a time, adding time.
     After that it proved a German-Russian duel, with Norway overcoming a poor start to move up fast on the strength of Gunn Margit Andreassen's perfect shooting. Overall, the Germans needed 11 extra shots to Russia's nine and 10 for Norway.
     On the last stretch, Behle looked back just before the end, grabbed a German flag and skied casually over the finish line as Russia's Olga Romasko struggled home.
     Disl's six medals -- one in Albertville, two in Lillehammer and three here -- made her the winningest biathlete. She moved ahead of Alexander Tikhanov of the Soviet Union, who won four golds and a silver in four Winter Games.
     The United States finished 15th in the 17-team field.