ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -Alexander Bolshunov, representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), recovered from an early spill to win the men’s 2×15 km Olympic skiathlon with a dominant performance on Sunday and celebrate gold after winning three silvers and a bronze in 2018.
His ROC team mate Denis Spitsov took the silver medal, finishing one minute 11 seconds behind, with Finland’s Iivo Niskanen, reigning Olympic champion over the 50km classic distance, taking bronze just over two minutes behind the winner.
Bolshunov took a tumble at the eight-minute mark but was quickly back up and battled Niskanen for the remainder of the classic portion of the race.
When the pair switched skis at the 15-km mark, Bolshunov came out in second place but quickly blew past his rival and powered away, building up an insurmountable lead and cruising through the rest of the race.
Niskanen, better known for his classic skiing than his freestyle, appeared to struggle and was passed by Spitsov but gradually found his rhythm and was able to hold off the chasing pack.
Spitsov survived a fall of his own late on, losing his footing as he took a drink in the closing stages, but by that point Niskanen was too far behind to exploit the opportunity.
It was Bolshunov’s day, however, and the 25-year-old turned the final kilometres into a victory parade.
He spent the final lap pumping his fist, waving to the crowd and high-fiving his coaches and support team as he blazed his way to his first Olympic gold clutching a hefty ROC flag, but he still remembered to wait at the line and embrace his silver-medal-winning compatriot.
Bolshunov took the opportunity to thank his father, who taught him to ski, as he basked in his Olympic success.
“He did everything he could during all my professional career, he always supported me, helped me, advised me and guided me — basically, the results I have today are because of him,” he said.
Niskanen was pleased to have claimed a bronze medal, despite tough conditions.
“The Russians were flying today but I think I managed to keep the gap to the others until the last lap, so I enjoyed the last lap and enjoy that I got the medal,” he told reporters.
Bolshunov will have plenty of opportunity to add to his impressive medal haul as he is expected to participate in five more events in Beijing.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, additional reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Clare Fallon)