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    Tuesday, February 17, 1998

    Heavy snow stops men's 10K

     NOZAWA ONSEN, Japan (AP) -- In an unprecedented move, officials halted the Olympic men's 10-kilometer biathlon sprint as a curtain of snow and fog made shooting too difficult.
     Sixteen of the 73 competitors had crossed the finish line when officials stopped the event Tuesday. It will be restarted Wednesday (Tuesday night EST).
     The staggered-start race was stopped after 39 1/2 minutes. Shooters had to squint through the snow and fog before pulling their triggers, and several had to blow snowflakes off their sights or fumbled with their firing mechanisms, wasting precious time.
     One strong medal contender, Frode Andresen of Norway, missed four of five targets during his first shooting.
     Among the finishers was Alexander Popov of Belarus, who hit a perfect 10-for-10 and skied well for a clocking of 32 minutes, 38.8 seconds. Still on the course, Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, a favorite, was shown as leading shortly before the race was stopped. He had missed one shot but was skiing at a faster pace than Popov.
     Another favorite, World Cup leader Ricco Gross of Germany, had hit all five targets his first time at the range, but was skiing slowly.
     Coaches said the slushy snow conditions favored lighter, quicker skiers such as Bjoerndalen or some of the Russians rather than the heavier Germans.
     In the 10K, competitors carry .22-caliber rifles and 10 rounds of ammunition. They stop twice to fire at five targets, once in a prone position and once while standing. A 150-meter penalty loop is skied for each missed shot.