By Julien Pretot
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Norway cruised to victory in the inaugural Olympic biathlon mixed relay on Wednesday in a race in which they were barely threatened.
The gold was a record 13th Winter Olympic medal, and joint record eighth Olympic title for Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who partnered Emil Hegle Svendsen, Tiril Eckhoff and Tora Berger to victory.
Czech Republic won silver while Italy claimed the bronze for their first biathlon medal since Pieralberto Carrara took silver in the men's 20km individual at the Nagano Games in 1998.
"It was a beautiful race," Bjoerndalen told a news conference. "The relay is a different feeling because you don't work for yourself but for the team."
Berger told reporters: "It's special to get a gold in the mixed relay at the Olympics for the first time in history."
France, who were among the favourites, dropped out of contention after Anais Bescond missed five of 10 targets in the second leg and finished a distant seventh.
In the mixed relay, two women race a 6km sprint and two men race a 7.5km sprint. They can reload up to three times per shooting session before having to complete a 150m penalty loop.
"They shot 38 of 40 targets, that is definitely something," France's Jean-Guillaume Beatrix told reporters.
Berger was the first off the mark and despite two mistakes on the range, she passed the relay to Eckhoff in first position.
Eckhoff was a tad slow on the skis and trailed Czech Gabriela Soukalova by one second at the end of her leg.
The best of the Norwegians had yet to start, with Bjoerndalen and Svendsen, who one day earlier had claimed the Olympic mass start title, set to take over.
Bjoerndalen's cross-country skiing abilities were too much to handle for Jaroslav Soukup, who finished 43 seconds off the pace.
Svendsen then just had to avoid a disaster on the shooting range, which he managed perfectly.
"I felt I was in good shape. My first shooting was really good, the second shooting was not so good," Berger told reporters. "My legs were shaking and I had two misses."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Mike Collett-White)