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    Saturday, February 21, 1998

    Luck runs out of luck

     NOZAWA ONSEN, Japan (AP) -- Frank Luck ran out of luck on the last leg of the last day of Olympic biathlon. Fortunately, his German teammates didn't.
     Excellent shooting by the other three members made up for the three extra shots Luck needed at the range, and Germany went on to win the 30-kilometer relay Saturday.
     "You had this strange feeling. This is the last lag of the last race and it's a matter of a gold or not," Luck said. "But I was ahead, so I had some time to think. It's not the same when a bunch of others are breathing down your neck."
     Racing with three of the same biathletes who won the gold at Lillehammer four years ago, the Germans overcame earlier lackluster efforts in these games to win in 1 hour, 21 minutes, 36.2 seconds. Norway was second, 20 seconds back, and Russia finished third.
     "The pressure was great on us," said Germany's Peter Sendel, alluding to media criticism of the team.
     Ricco Gross, ranked No. 1 in World Cup competition, shook of a case of Olympic blahs to put Germany in front, although he faced a serious challenge on the first leg from Latvia and Belarus, which finished fourth.
     Midway through the race, Latvia was one second ahead of the Germans but by the time the powerful Sven Fischer tagged his brother-in-law and anchor Luck, Germany had established an almost unbeatable advantage.
     The Germans needed only six extra shots, while the Norwegian and Russian teams each took seven.
     Norway's anchor, Old Einar Bjoerndalen, skied the second-fastest leg of the event and shoot a perfect 10-for-10. But it wasn't enough to compensate for his teammates, including his older brother Dag, who needed four extra shots on the third leg.
     The final race cemented Germany's hold on the men's relay, which it has won in the past three Olympic games. The women's team won the relay event two days earlier, producing the Olympics' most successful biathlete when Ursula Disl picked up her sixth medal in three games.
     Olympic biathlon competition ended with Germany and Norway winning two gold medals apiece and five medals overall. Russia also won two golds but finished with three total.
     Skies cleared shortly before race time, but earlier light rain and snow flurries made for soggy, slow course conditions, making wax and surface choices difficult.
     A record 8,200 spectators turned up to cheer along the tough biathlon course set into the sides of Mount Kenashi and backed by towering cedar trees.
     The United States finished next-to-last in the 18-team field, and needed 15 extra shots from Andrew Erickson of Minatonka, Minn.; Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, Alaska; Robert Rosser of Underhill, Vt.; and Dan Westover of Colchester, Vt.