By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 16 - Biathlon leaders were embarrassed after several problems caused by officials and volunteers marred the victory in the 12.5 kilometre pursuit of Bjorn Ferry (pictured), making him the first Swedish man to claim a gold medal in the sport for 50 years.

Klas Lestander had been the last Swedish man to win an Olympic gold medal when he had triumphed in the 20 kilometres race at Squaw Valley in 1960.

Ferry's victory, however, was overshadowed by two racers setting off early because of mistakes by officials and volunteers at the start.

The International Biathlon Union (IBU) called the mistakes an embarrassment.

Norbert Baier, the IBU's technical delegate, said: "Why do we have this incompetence?

"The IBU takes full responsibility.

"This is the worst day of my career.

"For me, this is the blackest day ever."

Baier said the two athletes who left early, American Jeremy Teela and Canadian Jean Philippe Leguellec, started from the wrong row.

They both finished out of the medals.

Race officials missed the mistake and volunteers did not check to see they had the right bib numbers for that row.

Baier said: "The mistakes are our fault. Games organisers asked the IBU to deal with the starts as their volunteers felt too nervous and inexperienced to carry out this function.

"So very experienced IBU functionaries were called on at the last minute to give the starts."

The pursuit features staggered starts based on finish times from the previous event, and mistakes at the start gate also marred the women's 10km, where three women set off too late.

Sweden protested after their medal hope Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek was sent out 14 seconds late.

After the Swedes complained she was given the time back and placed fourth in a race won by Germany's Magdalena Neuner.

But her German coach Wolfgang Pichler was still boiling with anger.

He said: "It was a totally different race for her after that and that is why we complained.

"It is a huge scandal.

"It is unheard of."

Because the remaining biathlon events do not include closely staggered start times there should be no repeat of the mistakes.

Baier said: "The problems are over.

"We had enough problems today."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]