KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Canadian biathlete Jean-Philippe le Guellec was in the lead of the men's 12.5-kilometer pursuit on Monday when he became another victim of the treacherous soft snow on the Sochi Olympic course.
Like several other skiers had already done in the race, Le Guellec lost his footing on one of the steepest downhill sections and tumbled over, breaking one of his skis. By the time he received a new one, he was already well out of contention and finished 26th, nearly two minutes behind winner Martin Fourcade of France.
Le Guellec was trying to become the first male Canadian biathlete to win an Olympic medal.
"Honestly, I want to punch a wall and hopefully break through it," Le Guellec said. "It's such soft conditions today. ... It made it really difficult to manage the turns on the downhills because the snow was really heavy and there were a lot of deep ruts and it's hard to step-turn with little steps."
The warm weather on Monday had softened the course considerably since Saturday's 10-kilometer sprint, and several other skiers further back in the field also fell in the downhill sections. Le Guellec had finished fifth in the sprint to put himself in a good position for a medal in the 12.5K pursuit, where the times carry over, and he was among a group of skiers who quickly caught up to leader Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. By the time they left the second shooting station, the Canadian was in the lead.
Then his fall ruined his chances for good.
"The first downhill after the range, I decided to take the inside line but I guess a lot of people were skid-turning the turn on the first lap and there was a huge ice patch that I saw at the last minute," he said. "It sent me flying. I got back up, the first four guys passed me and I tried to catch them."
He then missed three targets on the final two shooting stations, although by that time he was trying to make up for lost ground.
"The race isn't over until you cross the finish line, so I was definitely happy to leave the (second) range in first - that's definitely awesome - but I wasn't expecting to keep the lead for the rest of the race," the Canadian said. "It's biathlon."
Sergey Novikov of Belarus and Serhiy Semenov of Ukraine also took spectacular tumbles during the race, but neither was in contention for a medal.
"It was really soft, especially on the downhill sections, which is pretty tough on these skinny skis," said Tim Burke of the United States, who stayed on his feet but finished a disappointing 22nd.
Le Guellec is competing in his third Olympics, and his fifth place in Saturday's sprint has been his best result so far. He became the first Canadian to win a World Cup race at the season-opening sprint in Ostersund, Sweden, in December 2012.
It wasn't the first time Le Guellec had a mishap at an Olympic pursuit.
In Vancouver four years ago, he received a 30-second penalty because he started to soon when one of the race workers shouted "go" at the start. He finished 11th.
"Pursuits in the Olympics for me are just bad luck," Le Guellec said. "It's actually my favorite race. It's a fun race, it's fun for spectators and it's fun for the athletes. It's just too bad that this happened again."