Norway's Skari holds off Russians for 10K goldPosted: Tuesday February 12, 2002 12:05 PM
Updated: Tuesday February 12, 2002 1:31 PM
MIDWAY, Utah (AP) -- Bente Skari won Norway's first individual Olympic gold medal ever in the women's cross-country skiing Tuesday, edging Olga Danilova of Russia by 2.5 seconds after a dramatic finish in the 10-kilometer classical style race.
The 29-year-old Norwegian finished the race, held under sunny skies on the highest trails in the world, in 28 minutes, 05.6 seconds.
Julija Tchepalova, another Russian, took the bronze, 4.3 seconds back.
Skari trailed both Danilova and Tchepalova with only a few kilometers left, but turned in a spectacular finish in the ski stadium.
"I started not so fast and thought I'd make up what I had lost in the end of the race," Skari said.
After the first check point at 5.8K, Skari trailed leading Danilova by more than 15 seconds.
Skiing into the stadium, Skari's servicemen screamed that she was only four seconds seconds.
"So it would have been very stupid not trying [for the gold]," she said.
Danilova said she simply ran out of gas at the end. "The last 1.5 kilometers were difficult for me. I just didn't have enough strength," she said.
Tchepalova, who is better known as a freestyle racer and who finished fourth in the opening 15K, finally established herself as a classical racer as well.
"It's a great achievement for me, especially in this classical style and especially in these Olympics. Today I wanted to overcome my fears of racing classical," Tchepalova said.
Skari won both classic-style races in last year's World Championships in Lahti, Finland, and kept on dominating the most traditional style on the World Cup circuit this season.
Five classic-style races were held before the Olympics and Skari won them all.
Surprisingly, Norway had not won a single gold medal in women's cross-country since its debut in the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway, despite being in the world's elite throughout the years.
The best results were three silver medals. In relays, Norway won two gold medals, in 1968 and 1984.
Skari was 5K classical bronze medalist four years ago in Nagano, Japan, and also won a silver with the relay team.
Her triumph prevented a Russian sweep.
Larissa Lazutina, who won the silver medal in the opening 15K freestyle, finished fourth. Stefania Belmondo of Italy, the 15K gold medalist, was fifth.
This was Norway's third gold medal in these games. Kari Traa won the women's moguls Saturday and Ole Einar Bjoerndalen prevailed in the men's 20K biathlon opener Monday.