By Philip O’Connor
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Cross-country skiing prodigy Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo of Norway cruised to his second Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang on Wednesday, joining up with Martin Johnsrud Sundby to win the men’s team sprint relay by 1.71 seconds.
Denis Spitsov and Alexander Bolshunov, representing the Olympic Athletes from Russia, took silver and Richard Jouve of France held off Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson to claim bronze with Maurice Manificat.
“It is an incredible feeling to finish first here,” Klaebo told reporters.
“Both of us have been very nervous today and I did not sleep good today also.”
Sweden led a tightly-bunched field for most of the race as Marcus Hellner skirmished with Sundby at the front of the field, but the Norwegians soon exerted their cross-country dominance once again.
The Nordic nation had taken three of the four men’s cross-country gold medals on offer in Pyeongchang and with the 21-year-old Klaebo anchoring the race, any team looking to beat them would have to make an early move.
Klaebo surged on a tough uphill stretch during the fourth lap to give Sundby a slender lead on his last trip around the course.
Sundby increased the lead to over five seconds before handing back to Klaebo for the final lap and his young team powered up the first hill and away from the rest of the field.
In the end he was unthreatened, turning the final corner and gliding across the line at a leisurely pace for his second gold. Sundby now has two gold medals and one bronze to show for his efforts in Korea.
“This guy (Klaebo) inspires me. He has come in last season and in this season, maybe showing us how modern cross-country skiing should be,” Sundby said.
“He is a talent everybody looks up to at moment but he is only 21 years old so I hope I have one advice or two to give him in the next few years,” he said.
“But for sure he has taken cross-country skiing to another level.”
Bolshunov opened enough of a gap over the last 200 meters to claim sliver comfortably. Sweden, after a promising start, fell away late on as Halfvarsson was outsprinted for the bronze by Jouve.
Spitsov said he did not expect to end up on the podium collecting a silver medal at all because he does not consider himself a strong sprinter.
“In a way we are happy. We were close,” he told reporters.
“In the last climb it was a good run from Johannes and there was a big gap, so big that I could not reach.”
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, Additional reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Ed Osmond/Amlan Chakraborty)