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Germany's Golden Girl

It was a gold-medal day for Germany and Andrea Henkel, who completed a near flawless performance to win the women's 15 km biathlon.


Golden kisses for Andrea Henkel

The day started out beautiful, sunny and hardly any wind – the perfect conditions for the biathlon. One of Olympics’ most trying sports, the nordic event combines the physical endurance of cross-country skiers with the steely nerves and concentration of sharp shooters.

And Germany’s Andrea Henkel, a relative newcomer on the scene, proved she had the strength and determination to go for gold.

With only a single missed shot, the 24-year old Henkel outperformed the sport’s reining two women Liv Grete Poiree of Norway and Magdalena Forsberg of Sweden.

"It was a complete surprise," said Henkel, a four-time world junior champion who is competing in the Olympics for the first time.

"It was a real sensation. I never thought we could beat Poiree and Forsberg. We weren’t able to do it in the entire season," said Henkel’s trainer Uwe Müssiggang.

But Henkel, who is a soldier in the German army had been training hard for the Olympics.

After growing up in Thuringia in East Germany, Henkel moved to Oberdorf in Bavaria when she was in the 7th grade. She enrolled at the German sports boarding school and graduated in 1996. Ever since then she’s trained at the German army’s center in Oberdorf, alongside the silver-medal winner in the men’s biathlon Frank Luck.

Where dreams come true

In the biathlon competition, women race across a 15 kilometer course, stopping four times at the firing range. In both standing and prone positions, the athletes must hit all five targets with five bullets. For each target missed, one minute is added to their total time.

Henkel, who is not the strongest skier, is a good and consistent shooter. Of the 20 shots, she only missed a single one in the second round. After that she was right on target and ahead of her competition. She finished the race in an impressive 47 minutes and 29.1 seconds, including the one-minute penalty.

Poiree also missed a shot in the second round, but couldn’t catch up to Henkel, and came in 7.9 seconds behind the gold medallist. Forsberg struggled with her shooting and missed twice in the standing round.

"If someone had told me this morning that I would win gold, I would have said, keep dreaming," Henkel said in disbelief upon crossing the finish line ahead of Poiree and Forsberg.

Germany’s Medals

Henkel is not the only to win a gold medal for Germany. Claudia Pechstein won first place in the women’s 3000 meter speed skating race, starting off a streak of possible victories among the female speedsters.

Georg Hackl, the three-time Olympic gold medallist walked away from his fifth consecutive Olympic games with a silver medal in the luge. Hackle made history in Salt Lake as the most decorated luge athlete ever.

After his Four Hills Grand Slam earlier this year, the ski jumper Sven Hannawald was expected to win. So far he’s only made silver in the 90 meter jump. He’s still up for the 120 meter run and the team jump, where he’s hoping to duplicate or improve his records.

Topping his own personal best, Frank Luck got silver in the men’s 20 kilometer biathlon on Monday. With Henkel, the two biathlon athletes prove that the sport is not just for the Scandinavians.

Jens Boden completed a surprisingly good race in the men’s 5000 meter speed skating, getting bronze in a discipline which isn't Germany's strongest.

By Tuesday, Germany had won six medals compared to nine In Nagano, making it the top-ranking nation in the medals league. This Olympics, German sports officials are counting on an even more. So far, German athletes have been off to a good start, and only the Americans have come close to them.

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