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Alsgaard delivers golden swansong

Norway’s Thomas Alsgaard took up cross country skiing at an early age. When he was just three years old, he entered a race for five-year-olds and won. Legend has it that the following year his parents thought he had got lost but instead found him at the local ski track, about to start a third lap of the 9km course.

His first appearance at the Olympic Winter Games came at Lillehammer 1994, where he won gold in the 30km and silver in the 4x10km relay. Four years after that he picked up another relay gold and added the combined pursuit title to his tally, having beaten his countryman Bjørn Dæhlie in one of the most exciting finishes ever seen in an Olympic cross country race.

In Salt Lake City, Alsgaard restricted himself to just three events: the 4x10km relay, combined pursuit and the 30km. He could only manage a 12th place finish in the latter, but still had a defence of his two titles from Nagano in his sights.

First up, on 14 February, was the combined pursuit. Alsgaard had lost none of his speed in the four years since the last Games, and there was no Dæhlie to beat, but he now faced a new challenge in the form of another compatriot, Frode Estil.

Alsgaard started the freestyle leg some 36 seconds behind Estil, but steadily closed the gap in the classic leg, and as they came into the final stretch the pair were neck-and-neck. As they crossed the line, it was impossible to see who had won – and not even the photo finish could separate them. In the end, highly unusually, both men were awarded the same time of 49 minutes 48.9 seconds, and so both won a gold medal.

The 4x10km relay was almost as close. For the fourth Games in a row it developed into a battle between Norway and Italy, and by the time Alsgaard started the final leg there was only half a second to choose between them. Pitched against Christian Zorzi, the Norwegian held the lead until the pair reached the final run towards the finishing line. Zorzi moved out to pass him and move into first position. But, with the line beckoning, Alsgaard summoned one final push to retake the lead with just 20m left to ski and led his team to gold by a margin of just 0.3 seconds. It proved to be a golden swansong for Alsgaard, who announced his decision to retire from international competition shortly afterwards.

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