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    Tuesday, February 17, 1998

    Foggy range halts biathlon race

     NOZAWA ONSEN, Japan (AP) -- Six minutes into the race, American biathlete Dan Westover was already struggling through thick, heavy snow and worried about the way he had zeroed his rifle.
     Then he got a break: Olympic officials stopped the race.
     "I didn't think this would happen in a million years," Westover said. "These were definitely extreme conditions, but they do happen. I'm glad I'll have another chance."
     That was scheduled Wednesday (Tuesday night EST) with the re-start of the 10-kilometer sprint. Forecasts called for generally clear skies.
     While it was snowing heavily, the biggest culprit Tuesday was fog.
     Yanez Vodicar, technical delegation chairman for the International Biathlon Union, said fog density at the shooting range varied so much over the 39 1/2 minutes of the race that officials thought it would be unfair to continue.
     "Point No. 1 is to have equal conditions for all athletes," he said.
     Officials said the last time a biathlon halt was ordered in the Olympics was 1972 in Sapporo, when the men's 20K was stopped very early.
     Sixteen of the 73 competitors had crossed the finish line Tuesday when officials made their decision. All 73 had begun the staggered-start race.
     "Those who were having a great race are really upset. Others came into the range and couldn't see the target," said Westover, of Colchester, Vt.
     Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, a favorite, was shown as leading. He had missed one shot but was skiing at a faster pace than Alexander Popov of Belarus, who hit a perfect 10-for-10 and skied well for a final clocking of 32 minutes, 38.8 seconds.
     World Cup leader Ricco Gross of Germany had hit all five targets his first time at the range, but was skiing slowly. Another medal contender, Frode Andresen of Norway, missed four of five targets during his first shooting.
     At the firing line, biathletes blew snowflakes off their rifle sights and fumbled with firing mechanisms, losing valuable seconds. From the many hesitations before triggers were pulled, it was clear many biathletes had difficulty discerning the small targets 50 meter away.