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The legend of Dæhlie is born

In the years since the 1992 Games, Norway’s Bjørn Dæhlie has been recognised as winter sports legend. But these were the Olympics where he first burst on to the biggest international stage, and announced himself to the wider world.

The 24-year-old cross-country skier was already a star by the time he arrived at his debut Games. He was the reigning world champion in the 15km and had also anchored the Norwegian relay team to a gold medal at the Worlds. But it was Olympic success that he craved most of all.

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His greatest rival turned out to be his team-mate Vegard Ulvang. The pair came up against each other for the first time in the 30km, when Dæhlie took silver behind Ulvang as Norway enjoyed a clean sweep of the medals.

His response came in the combined pursuit a few days later. In difficult conditions, Ulvang held the advantage after the first day with a 25-second lead over Dæhlie. But their fortunes were to change markedly during the freestyle section, when Dæhlie first closed the gap and then moved into the lead. He skied the 15km course 1 minute 18 seconds quicker than his rival to win the gold medal by nearly a minute.

The two men then joined forces in the 4x10km relay to devastating effect. Dæhlie skied the anchor leg, taking over from Ulvang in the lead, and never looking under threat. Indeed, he was so comfortably ahead that he was able to ski backwards across the finish line, punching the air as he doubled his gold medal tally at the Games.

The 50km was still to come and, after a few days recovery, Dæhlie seemed unaffected by his previous exertions. He was by far the classiest athlete in the field, winning by nearly a minute ahead of 41-year-old Italian Maurilio de Zolt.

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Dæhlie returned home a national hero. When he arrived in his parents' home town, he discovered a huge display of more than 1,500 roses arranged into the Olympic symbol. Movingly, each rose had been donated by someone living in the town.

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