German biathlete Neuner wins her third medal of the Olympics

Despite missing two of the 20 shooting targets, Magdalena Neuner from Germany easily won the 12.5 kilometer mass start biathlon race Sunday, to earn her third medal – and second gold – of the 2010 Games.

Neuner overcame two penalty laps and a seven second deficit in the final leg of skiing, as she passed Olga Zaitseva of Russia down the stretch and cruised into the stadium finishing in a time of 35:19.6.

Zaitseva, who only missed one target during the four shooting stages, ended up 5.5 seconds off Neuner’s pace, and took silver just ahead of another German, Simone Hauswald.

Hauswald led the race until the third shooting stage, but much like her compatriot Neuner, she also missed two targets, and fought to stay in the bronze position.

But nobody could match the speed and power of Neuner who looked superior on her skis in the closing minutes of the race.

The 23-year-old, in her first Olympics, had actually trailed by as much as 29 seconds after missing single  targets on the second and third stages, but continued to persevere and showed the most endurance during penalty laps.

After a silver in the 7.5km sprint, a gold in Tuesday’s 10km pursuit, and a top-ten finish in the women’s individual biathlon, Neuner has solidified herself as the world’s top female biathlete.

She was ranked number two in the World Cup standings heading into Vancouver, however, World Cup leader Helena Jonsson from Sweden finished tenth in Sunday’s mass start, which was her best finish of the Olympics.

There is only one more event remaining in women’s biathlon; team relay coming up on Tuesday.

Canada will get a chance to compete in that race, after some poor performances earlier in the Games where our athletes failed to qualify.

Veteran Zina Kocher will lead a team of youngsters in the relay, who will look to avenge a start in Vancouver that Canada’s women’s biathlon coach Geret Coyne told CTV was a “disaster.”