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Barring the most sensational upset of the 1960 Winter Games, every bronze, silver and gold medal in the six cross-country events will be taken home by skiers from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Cross-country has always been the winter sport in Scandinavia. By drawing from their nationwide resources of talent, the three small northern countries furnished every cross-country medal winner in the first six Olympics. In the seventh Games (1956), however, it became apparent that the Russians were benefiting from a massive program of cross-country training and had created a corps of first-class runners at least as impressive as that of the Scandinavians. In these Olympics, therefore, Russia will get from seven to nine of the 18 medals available.
The men's individual events vary from 15 to 50 kilometers, and even the shorter (10 km.) stretches of the four-man relay race can be an exhausting test. The runners take off in a quick, loose dogtrot, slapping their light narrow skis rhythmically against the track. The average winning speed around a fast 15-kilometer course is 12 to 13 miles an hour, and for a fast 50-kilometer, 9 to 10 miles an hour. There is very little slowing down. A good cross-country racer is expected to charge straight up the steepest hill on the course, literally hanging from one pole or the other at each step. But cross-country runners are an incredibly tough lot. Take Sweden's Sixten Jernberg: in nine days at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, he took a second place in the 15-kilometer, second place in the 30-kilometer, first place in the 50-kilometer and ran anchor for the third-place relay team. Or Finland's Veikko Hakulinen. He came in fourth, first and second in the same events and anchored the second-place relay team. And there was Russia's Pavel Kolchin (left), who came in third, third, sixth and ran on the winning relay team.
At these Olympics, Jernberg, Hakulinen and Kolchin are again the three top candidates for medals in the 15-and 30-kilometer races, and since the courses at McKinney Creek wind through alternate stretches of open, sunny terrain and cool, wooded sections these veterans are even more certain of finishing in front: they have the experience to choose the proper ski wax—an essential advantage in cross-country—and to vary their running technique to fit the changing snow conditions.
Another high-ranking racer is Hallgeir Brenden, the remarkable Norwegian who won a gold medal in 1952, another in 1956 and who, now nearing 40, is still Norway's top 15-kilometer runner.
In the 50-kilometer marathon, first place should go to a Soviet newcomer, Alexei Kuznetsov, who seems ready to beat the 31-year-old Jernberg. Kuznetsov may win a bronze medal in one of the shorter distances as well.
The remaining individual medals will be divided among Arto Tiainen and Toimi Alatalo of Finland, Nikolai Anikin and Anatoli Sheliukhin of Russia, Sverre Stensheim and Oddmun Jensen of Norway, Jan Stefansson of Sweden. The best cross-country racer the U.S. has ever developed, Mack Miller, can be expected to finish well up among the first 15 in the shorter races. The relay should go to Russia.
In the women's 10-kilometer, Maria Gusakova, who has recently beaten both the world champion, Liubov Baranova and Kolchin's wife, Alevtina Kolchina, will insure that the women's gold medal stays in Russia. And the Russians will undoubtedly take the women's relay.
There is a seventh cross-country race on the McKinney Creek courses, a 15-kilometer run that, strictly speaking, is not an event in itself, but half of the Nordic combined. The other half is a jump on the 60-meter hill back in Squaw Valley. This two-part competition, run on consecutive days, requires the greatest versatility of all the ski events. Its winner, in the estimation of the Scandinavians, has to be the best skier of the Games. Number 1 man in the combined is Tormud Knutsen of Norway; Lars Dahlquist of Sweden and Dmitry Kochkin of Russia are the other likely medal winners.