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26 Feb 2006
Turin 2006 , Olympic News , cross country team , Italy

Cross-country gold is Di Centa's crowning moment

Giorgio Di Centa had been part of the Italian relay team that won such a stunning gold medal in the 4x10km. It seemed the crowning point of a career that had seen him compete at the top level, but never before taken a gold medal.

Di Centa had won a relay silver four years earlier, but his career was often overshadowed by that of his sister, Manuela Di Centa, Italy's most decorated Winter Olympian, who won seven medals at three Winter Olympics over the course of the 1990s.

Now Giorgio had a gold of his own – but he also had a chance to expand his medal collection in the arduous 50km cross-country race.

The event was held on the final day of the Turin Games, a week after Di Centa had played his part in the relay victory. He had had time to recuperate – vital for one of the toughest races in any sport.

Conditions, though, were good. The sun was out, the temperature was just about perfect and there didn't seem to be a clear favourite. The race looked likely to be closely fought, but few could have predicted just had tight it would be.

At the final checkpoint, and with 40km already behind them, the first 21 skiers were covered by less than eight seconds. At the back of that group was the Russian Yevgeny Dementyev, the pursuit gold medallist earlier in the Games, but he was thinking tactically. Over the course of those final 10km, Dementyev fought his way towards the front and then took the lead.

He could see the line – but so could Di Centa. Belying his reputation for lacking a strong sprint finish, the Italian put on a burst of speed to overtake Dementyev just before the line to win by less than a second after more than two hours of hard skiing. It was the closest finish the event had ever seen. The top ten were covered by less than seven seconds

His victory sparked huge celebrations among Italian sports fans, as well as his own teammates. It seemed the perfect way for the home nation's supporters to mark the end of the Games and, in a further theatrical twist, Di Centa's gold medal was presented to him by his sister.

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