By Michael Pavitt

Kazakhstan claimed gold in the biathlon and cross country skiing ©FISUŠtrbské Pleso and Osrblie in Slovakia hosted the first events of the 27th Winter Universiade, with gold medals being won in biathlon and cross country skiing, with Kazakhstan, Russia and the Ukraine enjoying success.

The venues will host Nordic and biathlon events, as Slovakia co-hosts the Universiade with Granada, Spain.

Osrblie saw the first biathlon events get underway, as students from across the world competed for medals in the men's individual 20 kilometres and the women's individual 15km, with the first gold medal going to the Ukraine's Dmytro Rusinov.

He completed the men's course in 49min 52.8sec to see off competition from Russian athletes who took second to fourth positions, with Rusinov's nearest challenger coming in the form of Vadim Filimonov, who finished in 50:15.4 to earn silver, while Yuri Shopin's 51:18 was good enough for the bronze.

Russia were also forced to settle for silver in the women's event, this time by Kazakhstan's Alina Raikova who finished the 15km course in 47:29.4, just nine seconds ahead of Ekaterina Avvakumova and the podium was rounded off by home favourite Paulina Fialkova.

In preparation for the Universiade biathlon events a new multi-purpose venue has been constructed and will now be used as the national centre, with organisers hoping that the venue will stage future International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Championships.

There was more Kazakh success in Štrbské Pleso, which is hosting the first cross-country skiing events, as Anastassiya Slonova earned victory in the women's 1.4km event, in an event that saw only 0.48sec separating first and fourth positions.

Slonova's time of 3:22.75 was just enough to edge Poland's Ewelina Marcisz to the top of the podium, while Russia's Svetlana Nikolaeva claimed the bronze medal as she ensured that Marion Buillet of France was the unfortunate athlete to finish outside the medals.

Russia claimed a clean sweep in the mens cross country sprint ©FISURussia claimed a clean sweep in the mens cross country sprint ©FISU

Kazakhstan's early success in Slovakia bodes well for the nation that is set to host the 28th Universiade in 2017, in Almaty.

Their near neighbours Russia had medalled in the three other events of the day but were yet to taste their first gold until the men's sprint event, in which they dominated over the 1.6km distance to achieve a clean sweep on the podium.

Andrey Larkov was the man able to deliver the first Russian gold as he beat his fellow teammates Anton Gafarov and Raul Shakirzianov, who finished second and third respectively.

The Slovakian venue was praised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) technical delegate Zofia Kielpinska who said "the race conditions were excellent and we must salute the remarkable work done by the Slovak organisers."

He added: "The team set up by the Organising Committee is of a very good level and was able to cope with the different format problems related to the sprint."

Events will continue in Slovakia until February 1, before Granada will stage Alpine skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, speed skating and snowboarding events from February 4.

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