Estonians win gold, bronze in men's 15K classicalPosted: Tuesday February 12, 2002 3:20 PM
Updated: Tuesday February 12, 2002 4:41 PM
MIDWAY, Utah (AP) -- Estonia won its first Winter Olympic medals Tuesday, as Andrus Veerpalu took the gold and Jaak Mae the bronze in the men's 15-kilometer classic-style cross-country race.
Veerpalu crossed the finish line at Soldier Hollow in 37 minutes, 7.4 seconds -- 36 seconds ahead of silver medalist Frode Estil of Norway. Mae was 43.4 seconds back.
"This is a great, great success for Estonia," Veerpalu said.
American John Bauer finished 12th, the best U.S. cross-country showing since Bill Koch won the silver in a 30K race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games. Among the other Americans, Patrick Weaver was 16th and Kris Freeman -- who is diabetic -- was 22nd. Lars Flora was 54th.
After a slow start, Veerpalu put the race away and then the only drama was for second. At the 7.2K mark, Estil came around the bend and glided down the short hill to take over second place. That still left him 7.7 seconds behind.
By the 11.5K point, Veerpalu had increased his lead over Estil to nearly 23 seconds, and Veerpalu cruised to the victory.
The Norwegians were expecting to dominate in the classic-style events at these games, but they have just one medal in two races. They were shut out of the podium in Saturday's 30K race.
Last year, Estil said it was good for the sport to see athletes other than he and his Norwegian countrymen win races. He stood by that statement Tuesday.
"I still think it's good for international skiing that Estonia won," Estil said. "Norway has dominated this sport in the last 10 years, so I think it's important for this sport that other nations win, too.
"But I hope there soon will be some gold medals for Norway, too."
Anders Aukland, who rose from 22nd in the world rankings last year to second entering the Olympics, finished fourth, just over a minute off the pace.
Per Elofsson, who was supposed to capture multiple golds in these games after training in a high-altitude chamber in his native Sweden, did better than his previous race but still finished a disappointing fifth. Worn out by the highest course in the world, he dropped out of Saturday's 30K, saying he wanted to conserve energy.
Veerpalu and Mae were primed for success this season: Veerpalu won the 30K classical at World Cup event in Finland last year, and Mae -- competing in his second Olympics -- came in ranked third in the world.
"It's super. It's just fantastic," Mae said.