Gold for Sweden's Marcus Hellner in Cross Country Skiing
Sweden’s Marcus Hellner emerged as Petter Northug’s fiercest rival in the cross-country events.
Hellner was making his Olympic debut in Vancouver, and almost capped his first appearance with a medal. In the 15km he attacked right from the start, remaining out in front for most of the race before fading in the closing stages and missing out on bronze by a whisker.
That first performance nevertheless gave him momentum and confidence going into the 30km pursuit, the format of which had been changed, with the first 15km being skied in the classical style and the second 15km freestyle.
Northug, who had won the world championship title the previous year, was the favourite. However, problems with his wax and a broken pole scuppered his hopes. Meanwhile, by the halfway point, Hellner was not even in the top three. However, in the freestyle section of the race he made up time on the classical specialists, overtaking his fellow Swede Johan Olsson in the closing stages to take the lead, and then holding on to win from another fast finisher, Germany’s Tobias Angerer, by two seconds.
Four days later, Hellner put in another outstanding performance as he skied the final leg of the 4x10km classic. With around 3km to go, there was little to choose between the leading skiers, but then Hellner put in a strong burst to move clear, eventually crossing the line 16 seconds ahead of his closest rival Northug to give Sweden the gold.