Legkov took gold in 1 hour 46 minutes 55.2 seconds, a fraction of a second ahead of his two team-mates Maxim Vylegzhanin (+0.7) and Ilia Chernousov (+0.8), who took silver and bronze respectively. It was the second narrowest winning margin in the event’s history, after Petter Northug (NOR) claimed the title by 0.3 seconds at Vancouver 2010.
Legkov started a breakaway with less than two kilometres to go, with Vylegzhanin and Chernousov in hot pursuit, closely followed by Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who eventually finished fourth.
According to Chernousov, any thoughts of a Russian 1-2-3 were never in their mind for most of the race, which culminated in a tense sprint for the finish.
“We all tried to win. [Legkov] was faster than us,” said the man who took bronze.
It was a long-awaited triumph for the 30-year-old Legkov, who was competing at his third Winter Games and has long been regarded as Russia’s greatest cross country skier.
A week earlier he had helped the Russian team to silver in the men’s relay to claim his first ever Olympic medal, and the gold in the 50km underlined that he had finally come of age on the greatest stage.
A priceless victory
“Before the race I was shaking and worrying a lot,” admitted the Russian. “I had so many emotions but I could not express them.”
“This is priceless," he added. “It's more valuable than my life, I can't express how I feel. For 15 years I've been trying for this result.”
Legkov’s triumph at the Laura Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Centre, together with Alexander Zubkov’s win in the four-man bobsleigh, took Russia’s overall gold medal tally to 13 completing a hugely successful showing for the hosts’ athletes in Sochi.
“I always believed [Russia could do] it,” said Legkov.