Fourcade becomes France's greatest Olympian after photo finish

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Martin Fourcade won the men’s 15km mass start biathlon by mere millimeters but the history books will show that the gold medal made him France’s greatest Olympian, regardless of the margin of victory.

Biathlon - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Men's 15 km Mass Start Final - Alpensia Biathlon Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 18, 2018 - Simon Schempp of Germany and Martin Fourcade of France finish. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Sunday’s win, in a photo finish after a furious sprint against Germany’s Simon Schempp, makes him the only French athlete ever to win four Olympic golds, and prompted a celebratory tweet from French president Emmanuel Macron.

“@martinfkde makes us tremble and dream a second time by winning a new gold medal for France. A legend of the Olympic Winter Games and biathlon,” Macron tweeted.

If it had not been for one last, desperate lunge in a sprint finish situation where Fourcade has often come out on the losing side, history, and with it Macron’s tweet, may have remained unwritten.

“I closed my eyes for the sprint and I told myself, ‘Don’t regret anything’,” Fourcade told reporters.

Four years ago Fourcade was locked in a similar battle on the final straight with Emil Hegle Svendsen, who took the bronze medal in this race, and came up just short, but in Sunday night’s sprint he was not to be denied.

“I gave everything I had but I know that Simon is a really good sprinter and it’s not my main quality, so I was thinking during the whole loop that to lose against the world champion of the mass start is not something bad,” Fourcade said.

The 31-year-old now has four gold and two silver Olympic medals to go with a slew of world titles but this victory must surely rank as one of his sweetest.

“Today I’m so satisfied because I was second eight years ago in Vancouver in the mass start, I was second four years ago and today I finally win this competition, so I’m really proud,” he said.

“But also I was in the place of Simon four years ago so I will stay really humble.”

Known for his occasional triumphant gesture on the shooting range, Fourcade displayed plenty of humility in the media conference that followed the race.

“It’s something really incredible. I grew up watching biathlon on TV and sport at the Olympics, so being the best French Olympian is something I’m really proud of but then you have to compare -- if I was Norwegian I wouldn’t be the best Olympian ever,” he said.

Editing by Clare Fallon