ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Norway's Emil Hegle Svendsen claimed his third Olympic title and denied Frenchman Martin Fourcade a golden Sochi hat-trick in a photo finish to the delayed 15km biathlon mass start on Tuesday.
In a race twice postponed since Sunday because of fog, Svendsen and the Frenchman reached the final straight together but the Norwegian seemed to have sealed victory when he pulled away in the sprint for the line.
But Fourcade fought back to lunge towards the finish - the first binding to cross the line determining the winner - just as Svendsen raised his arms in celebration.
The official television feed initially showed Fourcade, who had earlier claimed the 20km individual and 12.5km pursuit titles, as the winner.
A photo finish was called and Svendsen, who had disappointed in the first three races here, was awarded the victory after his 20km individual and relay golds in Vancouver in 2010.
"At the beginning of the Olympics it was very tough because I had problems with my skis, but we are back we're are supposed to be," Svendsen said.
"It might have looked like I could lose gold, but I had good control over him. I knew I would get gold. It looked closer than it was. I looked at the finish photo and was surprised how close it was."
"Martin is first of all a very good and honest guy. When he loses he is a much better guy than me when I lose. He is one of the most respected athletes in the field."
Fourcade showed why he is held in high regard with his post-race comments. "He's usually faster than me on a sprint and it's not the first time he's beaten me on a photo-finish but many times I've made him crack at the shooting," said the Frenchman, who overcame a bout of sickness before Tuesday's race.
"We've been racing and competing together for three years now. Of course I imagined myself on the golden podium once in a while, but today he was a better biathlete."
"He has been the leader of this sport for four years now. I am right there behind him, but you could say that today - close, but not there."
Czech Ondrej Moravec took the bronze while Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen again missed out on a record 13th Winter Games medal when he made two mistakes at the final shooting and finished 22nd.
The start was delayed by 15 minutes because of snow before Fourcade and Bjoerndalen made one and two mistakes respectively on the first shooting.
Bjoerndalen made huge efforts to catch the leading group, which he paid for at the final standing shooting.
(Editing by Robert Woodward/Mitch Phillips)