Men’s cross country: Double gold for Cologna and last-day triple joy for Russia
The Laura Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Centre played host to some thrilling contests in the men’s cross country events, with the six golds shared by five nationalities. Switzerland’s Dario Cologna crowned a remarkable comeback from injury to win the skiathlon and 15km classic. Sami Jauhojärvi and Iivo Niskanen gave Finland its first Winter Olympic gold in 12 years, while the Swedes won the 4x10km title again and Ola Vigen Hattestad salvaged some pride for Norway in the freestyle sprint.
9 February 2014: Unseeded Cologna springs skiathlon surprise
Switzerland's Dario Cologna powered to victory in the men's skiathlon, hanging on to take the line in an enthralling final sprint. The 27-year-old Swiss pushed ahead of his rivals with a bold move before the final climb and just managed to keep his lead finishing in 1: 08:15.4 seconds ahead of Marcus Hellner (SWE) who took silver in 1:08:15.8.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby (NOR) and Maxim Vylegzhanin (RUS) engaged in a titanic struggle for bronze with the Norwegian just edging it in a time of 1:08:16.8. It was a remarkable performance from Cologna, the reigning world champion, who missed part of the season with an ankle injury.
“It's great - a dream come true,” said Cologna, who won gold in the 15km at Vancouver 2010, but was not seeded in Sochi. “It's very special. I won already here in the World Cup in Sochi. I just wanted to do the same again. It's very special for me to win after my injury in November. I didn't expect to be on the podium several months ago.”
Not seeded, Cologna had to start just behind the main pack of 20, but he quickly got among the leading bunch and stayed there. Heavily fancied Petter Northug (NOR), who won four medals in Vancouver, appeared at the front with 5km to go but eventually cracked as Cologna, Hellner, Sundby and Vylegzhanin powered away for the last 2km. Cologna made his break in the final short climb and never looked back, beating Vancouver 2010 winner Hellner by 0.4 seconds.
Despite losing his crown, Hellner was pleased to claim silver: “It feels great,” he said. “I had a good feeling throughout the race. Dario was a little bit stronger. I couldn't follow him.”
11 February 2014: Hattestad tops Scandinavian podium in freestyle sprint
Norway's Ola Vigen Hattestad seized his chance to take gold in the freestyle sprint, completing the 1.8km course in a winning time of 3 minutes 38.39 seconds, 1.22 seconds ahead of second-placed Teodor Petersen (SWE). The pair had moved into a clear lead after three of the six finalists - Anders Gloeersen (NOR), Marcus Hellner (SWE) and Sergey Ustiugov (RUS) - crashed going round a steep right-hand bend. Petersen’s compatriot Emil Joensson came in third to claim the bronze.
A total of 87 athletes had started the day’s competition, which began with a qualification round, with the field then whittled down to 30 competitors, who contested five quarter finals. The fastest two from each quarter final were joined by two “lucky losers” in the semi-finals, with six from 12 making it through to the afternoon’s final.
Norwegian athletes had always been expected to have a major say in the destination of the medals, however their main sprint specialist Petter Northrug endured a disappointing day, exiting at the semi-final stage. It was instead left to his compatriot Hattestad to take centre stage, on a day when Norway passed the 100 medal mark in cross country events at the Winter Games.
14 February 2014: Swiss supremo Cologna strikes gold again in 15km classic
In another demonstration of faultless Swiss timing and technical finesse, Dario Cologna won his second gold at Sochi 2014, with a dominant performance in the men's 15km classic. After a steady start, Cologna took the time trial race by the scruff of the neck from the middle section.
“It's amazing. I couldn't believe the first gold medal, after being injured, and now the second,” said the 27-year-old, who had time to punch the air as he crossed the line. “It was the perfect race,” he reflected. “I knew it would be hard and I was prepared for it.”
Cologna finished in 38 minutes 29.7 seconds, a colossal 28.5 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger Johan Olsson (SWE) who took silver. Another Swede, Daniel Richardsson, won bronze in 39 minutes 8.5 seconds. The victory underlined Cologna’s all-round versatility, following his win in the skiathlon, which mixes both the classic and freestyle.
The Swiss said that his triumphs in Sochi felt particularly special given that he had to bounce back from a torn ligament in his ankle sustained the previous November, forcing him to miss a crucial training period.
In winning the 15km, Cologna drew level with Alpine skier Vreni Scheider in the Swiss all-time rankings, with three Olympic golds. Only ski jumper Simon Ammann, with four, has won more.
16 February 2014: Super Swedes show team spirit to retain 4x10km title
Sweden completed a successful defence of the men's 4x10km cross country title with a dominant performance that capped a golden weekend for the country’s Nordic relay teams, after the Swedish women triumphed in the 4x5km a day earlier.
Anchorman Marcus Hellner was able to enjoy a victorious run into the finish, waving the Swedish flag attached to one of his ski poles, as he crossed the line for a total time of 1 hour 28 minutes 42 seconds.
There was a silver lining for the hosts, as Russia crossed the line second in a cumulative time of 1 hour 29 minutes 9.3 seconds, while the French quartet scooped a surprise bronze.
The victory confirmed Hellner as one of Sweden's greatest ever Olympians, adding a third gold to the two he won at Vancouver 2010. Only cross-country skiers Sixten Jernberg, Gunde Svan and Thomas Wassberg have won more, with four apiece.
“I'm very lucky to be the man that could do it, the man that had the gap, because of these guys. It's incredible,” said the 28-year-old, keen to emphasise the team effort involved in the title defence. His team-mate Johan Olsson added: “There's no secret, just really hard work. We made the race our own. We set the pace and we knew we were the strongest team.”
The hero for Russia was Alexander Legkov, who powered through the third leg, recording the fastest leg of the day to make up for his team’s slow start. “I'm happy for my team and my country. It's good to make everyone realise that we're one of the strongest teams ever,” said the 31-year-old.
Norway, so often the team to beat in the cross-country events, finished fourth.
19 February 2014: Jauhojärvi and Niskanen rediscover Finland’s golden formula to win team sprint
Finnish athletes Sami Jauhojärvi and Iivo Niskanen stunned their more fancied rivals to take gold in the men's team cross country sprint. The Finns howled with delight after their victory in the gruelling event, in which teams of two take it in turns to perform three punishing sprints. They finished in 23 minutes 14.89 seconds, ahead of Russia's Nikita Kriukov and Maxim Vylegzhanin who took silver in a time of 23 minutes 15.86 seconds.
The Swedish tandem of Emil Jönsson and Teodor Peterson completed the podium line-up, winning the bronze after posting a time of 23 minutes 30.01 seconds.
Germany's Tim Tscharnke looked well placed to secure a podium finish for his team, but fell after touching skis with Jauhojärvi on the last descent. His fall nearly took out Kriukov as well, but the Russian kept his balance well to cross the line for second place.
The German delegation later submitted an official protest, claiming that their athlete had been impeded unfairly, but their appeal was rejected by the jury, which ruled that there had been nothing irregular in the incident.
For his part, Jauhojärvi stressed he had done nothing wrong, but admitted he felt for the German team. “Unfortunately, Tim was crossing my line a bit and our skis -- or something, I think it was skis -- collided a bit, and he unfortunately fell down. “So they made a protest and the jury decided that what I did was inside the rules. I'm really sad for Germany that they lost the medal.”
It was Finland's first gold at the Olympic Winter Games since Nordic combined specialist Samppa Lajunen’s triumph in 2002. And Jauhojärvi revealed that he planned to celebrate the victory in the traditional Finnish manner. “Tonight I will have a sauna and eat well,” he said.
23 February 2014: Legkov leads Russians to clean sweep in the cross country 50km mass start
Alexander Legkov led Russia’s cross country skiers to a stunning clean sweep in the 50km mass start on the final day of competition at Sochi 2014. 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 Martin Johnsrud Sundby (NOR), who eventually finished fourth. The race culminated in a tense sprint for the finish, in which the podium line-up was in the balance until the last. “We all tried to win. [Legkov] was faster than us,” said Chernousov.
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. His gold in the 50km underlined that he had finally come of age on the greatest stage.
“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. I've been trying for this result for 15 years.”