Reuters - Sun, 28 Feb 23:26:00 2010
Norway's Petter Northug overcame treacherous conditions to win the closest ever men's Olympic 50km cross country race, nipping ahead of Germany's Axel Teichmann at the finish line.
Northug, the favourite, dug into his last reserves as the skiers entered the stadium and sprinted past Teichmann just when it looked as though the German had done enough to win.
The Norwegian finished in two hours five minutes 35.5 seconds, 0.3 seconds ahead of Teichmann. He kissed the air as he celebrated winning his first individual gold medal in what has been a mixed Games.
"I knew that if I stayed with him I could beat him in the stadium," Northug said.
Sweden's Johan Olsson came third in a race marred by rain and snow, which made the going slippery and caused several crashes. Switzerland's Dario Cologna was in contention for the bronze when he slipped and fell on the last bend.
The previous tightest finish in a men's 50 km race was in the 2006 Games, when Italy's Giorgio Di Centa won by 0.8 seconds.
Going into the 50km, the equivalent of the marathon at the Summer Games, all the attention was on Northug, who had been tipped to win virtually everything he entered.
Yet he flopped in the 15 m and 30km events and could only win bronze in the individual sprint. He also won a team gold and a team silver.
Unusually warm weather had made the track soft and conditions were not helped by a quick downpour as the racers set off. Northug changed his skis the maximum three times allowed during the race.
The 24-year-old was happy to stay in the leading pack for virtually all of the race, generally staying between five and 10 seconds behind the leader.
He gradually moved up to the front and by the end of the race was well prepared when Teichmann made his move on the final hill.
"My plan was to stay in the group and attack on the last hill," Northug said.
Canadian race organisers dismissed German criticism of their course, saying the trails had held up well despite bad weather conditions.
"I guess finally they learned to prepare the tracks pretty good and the last three or four days the tracks became better," said Teichmann.
"Maybe they should start next time two or three weeks earlier to learn how to prepare tracks for the Olympic Games."
John Aalberg, venue manager at Olympic Park, said the trails had been excellent from the start.
"In British Columbia we have different snow from the rest of the world - it's wetter. Perhaps he's not used to that. Maybe he's surprised by the snow conditions," he said.
Factbox on Northug:
Place of birth: Levanger, Norway.
Residence: Mosvik, Norway.
Previous Olympic results:
Gold, 2010 Winter Olympics, team sprint
Silver, 2010 Winter Olympics, 4x10km relay
Bronze: 2010 Winter Olympics, individual sprint
3x Gold, 2009 World Championships, 30km pursuit, 50km mass start, 4x10km relay
Gold, 2007 World Championships, 4x10km relay
Runner-up, 2008/09 World Cup, overall