By Philip O’Connor
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Johannes Hoesfolt Klaebo powered to a stunning victory in the men’s Olympic sprint classic on Tuesday to claim another cross-country gold medal for Norway with a dominant performance in the final.
In a thrilling finish, Italian Federico Pellegrino won the silver medal by two hundredths of a second from Alexander Bolshunov, representing the Olympic athletes of Russia, who took bronze.
After a disappointing 10th place in the skiathlon, 21-year-old Klaebo was in the mood for revenge as he lined up for the qualifiers.
He made his way methodically through the quarter and semi-finals before exploding into life halfway through the final, which pitted the remaining six skiers against each other.
Having sat behind Bolshunov for much of the early part of the race, Klaebo suddenly switched lanes and powered off up the hill, leaving the rest of the field struggling in his wake.
Bolshunov fought to hold his position but Pellegrino dug deep to mount a challenge, edging in front on the final straight.
The two men thundered toward the finish line, both lunging to cross first, and after a photo finish the Italian was declared the silver medalist.
Klaebo was delighted with his first Olympic win and said he had put the skiathlon behind him.
“I don’t feel like it’s revenge, for me this has been goal form the Mohole season. To be able to deal with the pressure from the last couple of weeks, it’s a great victory and it feels quite good,” he told reporters.
Klaebo revealed that his decision about when and where to make a break for victory was not a spontaneous one.
“I’m thinking about the last uphill for a long time. I was quite strong in the start of the final, my plan was always to be able to run fast in the last uphill. To be able to get the gap and turn around at the top is a great feeling,” he said.
The 21-year-old paid tribute to former team mate Petter Northug, who was not selected for the Games after failing to recover from illness.
“For a long time when Petter was doing so well from 2006, it’s been a big inspiration for me,” he said of twice Olympic champion Northug, known affectionately as the “bad boy” of Norwegian skiing.
“When you’re starting to go to high school and you’re looking up to people doing well in championships, you want to do it well and do it your way, and to cross the finish line and get an Olympic gold medal is quite an unbelievable feeling,” Klaebo said.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Ed Osmond/Amlan Chakraborty)