Reuters - Thu, 25 Feb 00:29:00 2010
Marcus Hellner held off a storming final leg by Norway's Petter Northug to give Sweden a thrilling victory in the men's Olympic cross country 4x10km relay.
Northug began his anchor leg a distant 37.5 seconds behind Hellner but the Swede had too much of a cushion and he coasted to the finish line after a well-paced closing stretch at Whistler Olympic Park.
World champions Norway, thanks to Northug's astonishing display over the last 10km, took silver, 15.9 seconds adrift, and the Czech Republic claimed the bronze.
France, who held a significant lead in the first leg of classical skiing before Jean Marc Gaillard stumbled while negotiating a corner, came home fourth.
"I knew it was going to be enough," a smiling Hellner said of his early advantage over Northug, the most dominant figure in the sport for the last four years.
"I never lose 35 seconds in such a short while and I thought that I would take it a little bit easy on the first laps and then push in the last.
"They (the Norwegians) did a good job behind but today I was stronger. I knew that if I was doing right, I'd get the gold."
The Swedes became the first team to win five Olympic gold medals in the men's relay event, edging ahead of Norway and Finland who each have four.
With Johan Olsson and Anders Soedergren excelling in difficult snowy conditions, Sweden led after the second and third legs to give Hellner the chance to claim his second gold medal of the Games. He won the 30km pursuit on Saturday.
Although just 3.5 seconds ahead of France after his exchange with Soedergren, Hellner broke clear of the lead group midway through the last leg and had time to pick up a Swedish flag from a spectator after entering the final straight.
He unfurled the blue-and-yellow banner and raised it proudly in his right arm as he crossed the finish line for Sweden's fourth gold medal of the Vancouver Winter Games.
Northug, who finally clinched his first Olympic gold in the men's team sprint freestyle on Monday, covered his 10km leg of freestyle skiing in a stunning 24 minutes 15.5 seconds.
"When we started, we were out of a podium chance," Northug said after collecting his third Games medal. "On the second run (his second lap), I knew: 'Now it's time to push if you want the podium.' We have to be happy with the silver."
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