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Defending champ Kuzmina wins biathlon gold

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Anastasiya Kuzmina became the first woman in biathlon to successfully defend an Olympic title by winning gold in the 7.5-kilometer sprint Sunday at the Sochi Games.

Competing for Slovakia, the Russian-born Kuzmina shot flawlessly and finished in 21 minutes, 6.8 seconds.

Kuzmina won gold in the sprint and silver in the pursuit in Vancouver four years ago.

Her victory in Sochi came one day after her brother, Russian biathlete Anton Shipulin, had lost his chance for a medal in the men's 10K sprint after missing the final target.

Olga Vilukhina of Russia trailed Kuzmina by 19.9 seconds to win silver, and Vita Semerenko of Ukraine was 21.7 behind for bronze.

Winning gold again completes a remarkable return to form for Kuzmina.

After earning two medals in Vancouver, she added a bronze in the sprint event at the world championships the next year.

However, she then failed to produce a similar standard in the World Cup events and said she had lost her motivation. Her career was boosted again by the return of coach Juraj Sanitra, who took charge of the Slovakian team again two years ago.

Contrary to the top three in Sunday's race, most of the pre-race favorites struggled in the shooting.

Overall World Cup champion Tora Berger missed the first target in her opening round but was clean — and fast — in the second. Still, the overall World Cup champion from Norway finished 10th, 33.8 seconds behind Kuzmina.

Berger's biggest rival all season, Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, faulted twice in her last round of shooting and ended up in 30th.

Another predicted medal candidate, Darya Domracheva of Belarus, missed her first target but sped up and quickly hit the other four. She was clean in her final round and finished ninth, 31.8 seconds behind.

Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic blew her chances by missing the first two and the fifth target in the prone shooting, forcing her to three 150-meter penalty loops.

Soukalova has won three World Cup events so far this season, more than any other biathlete, and is fourth in the overall standings.

Late starter Selina Gasparin looked a threat for Kuzmina but the Swiss, who won two sprints this season, faulted on her last target. She lacked the pace to make up for the extra 150 meters and came 13th.

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 Japan Olympian inspires pride in home town 
Anastasiya Kuzmina, of Slovakia, lies in the snow after winning the women's biathlon 7.5K sprint during the Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia on Sunday, Feb. 9. (AP)

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