KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Marit Bjoergen ended a gold-medal drought that surprisingly had lasted 10 days. Finland then surprisingly ended one that had lasted 12 years.
Bjoergen gave Norway a dominant victory in the women’s cross-country team sprint Wednesday to erase some of the memories of a disastrous relay and two other disappointing races. It was her fifth career Olympic gold and second in Sochi, after winning the opening skiathlon race on Feb. 8.
Shortly afterward, Sami Jauhojaervi gave Finland its first Winter Olympic gold since 2002 – and first in cross-country since 1998 – by taking advantage of a fall that slowed his two closest rivals in the men’s final. It was the most unexpected gold medal in the sport at the Sochi Games so far – the 32-year-old Jauhojaervi only has one World Cup victory in his career, and teammate Iivo Niskanen has never even been on the podium.
Norway’s victory was far from unexpected. It ended a mini-crisis for the team after both the men’s and women’s relay teams failed to get a medal as the wax technicians struggled to find the right setup for warm conditions in Sochi.
“I didn’t think it would be possible to fight for the gold medal but we had perfect skis, the waxing guys did a great job,” Bjoergen said.
Norway’s victory was never in doubt after Bjoergen pulled away on the first of her three laps, and then grew the advantage to 9 second by the end. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg was the other skier for Norway. Finland finished second, and Sweden took bronze after Stina Nilsson won a sprint against Germany’s Denise Herrmann. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen and Kerttu Niskanen competed for Finland. Ida Ingemarsdotter was the other skier for Sweden.
The men’s final was much more dramatic as Finland, Russia and Germany were together up front heading into the stadium on the last lap. But Jauhojaervi was able to pull ahead when Germany’s Tim Tscharnke fell right behind him after the final downhill section and also tripped up Russia’s Nikita Kriukov, who stayed on his legs but lost touch with the Finn.
Finland had to wait an extra 35 minutes or so to be sure of the gold after the German team put in a protest, saying Jauhojaervi had cut in front of Tscharnke, but it was quickly dismissed by a race jury.
That was a short wait for a proud cross-country skiing nation, though, compared to the 16 years since Mika Myllyla’s victory in the 30K race in Nagano. Finland took four golds overall in Salt Lake City in 2002 but left both Turin and Vancouver without a single Olympic title.
“It’s amazing, you can’t realize it,” said Iivo Niskanen – Kerttu’s brother. “It’s a long way, many, many years. Now we’ve made it together.”
Russia had to settle for silver, while Sweden ended up with bronze after Teodor Peterson went past Tscharnke, who remained on the ground for several seconds after the crash.
That also gave Sweden’s Emil Joensson a second lucky bronze in Sochi, after three rivals fell in front of him in the final of the individual event.
“I don’t know what to say, it’s been a very special championships for me,” Joensson said. “It’s almost embarrassing.”
Russia’s Kriukov has an Olympic and world title in classical-style sprint, but lost too much time in the crash to threaten Jauhojaervi.
“Had we not had such a crash as we did, we probably would have had a good chance at a gold medal,” Kriukov said. “I remained standing but I lost some speed, the split seconds that I needed to get to the finish line first.”
Tscharnke was left ruing a missed chance at a medal and what he thought was an unfair maneuver by Jauhojaervi. Tscharnke ran into the back of the Finn’s skis and lost his balance.
“It was a certain medal, and we had deserved it after such a performance. Germany has been disqualified a couple of times before for issues that were much more harmless,” Tscharnke said. “He crossed over and I just couldn’t avoid crashing into him. The Finnish guy was cutting my skis. I am unbelievably disappointed. But it’s over now.”
The Norwegian men struggled again, as individual sprint champion Ola Vigen Hattestad looked sluggish throughout the day. Petter Northug couldn’t make up enough time on his laps and ended up fourth.
“I hoped to go out together with Russia, Finland and Germany on the last leg but it was too many seconds,” Northug said. “It’s 10 seconds, it’s impossible on this track.”