The 4x10km cross-country relay was highly anticipated – a resumption of a long rivalry. In the previous four Olympic Winter Games, Norway and Italy had come first and second in the event, with three wins for Norway and one for Italy, but the margins of victory had been tiny at the past three Games – a total of less than a second over 120km of competition.
Still, Norway’s fans still considered the race to be its preserve and were expecting another victory. Italy, competing on home snow, had other ideas.
A surprise seemed possible from early in the contest. After the first leg, it was the Canadians who held the lead thanks to Devon Kershaw, but Norway second and Italy back in fifth.
The Canadian challenge disappeared after that point and it was Czechs who took over the lead during the second leg, with Norway in third place and the Italians still stuck in fifth. But then came Italy's inspiration. Pietro Piller Cottrer skied the third leg in extraordinary style, recording the fastest and most important leg of the whole event.
By the time he exchanged, Cottrer had not just hauled Italy into the top three, but had taken the overall lead. Going into the final leg, the home nation now enjoyed a 5.6 second lead, this time not over Norway, but Sweden.
The questions for the two great rivals had now changed. Italy were challenging for gold, but Norway were now hoping for any medal at all. Only not nation got their wish – ltaly held on to win by more than 15 seconds from Germany, with Sweden third. Norway’s expectant fans, though, were stunned to see their heroes finish only fifth.