ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) -Newly-crowned Olympic cross country skiathlon gold medallist Alexander Bolshunov failed to start Tuesday’s sprint freestyle race, where he had been again expected to challenge for a medal.
Bolshunov won bronze in the sprint four years ago and was due to race in the sprint free but withdrew a few hours before the scheduled start to preserve energy for the 15km event later in the week.
Representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Bolshunov won the gruelling 30km skiathlon in dominant style on Sunday, then hit back at journalists questioning his performance who he claimed were “hinting at doping”.
“Sasha told me last night that he wants to focus on the next race,” Yelena Vyalbe, head of the Russian Ski Association (RSA), said.
“The decision was very difficult on his part, and I can only say that I bow to his professionalism. You can easily spend all your energy in the sprint, while not winning anything, and then still fill up the next start, which he is now betting on.”
In his absence Frenchman Lucas Chanavat, ROC representative Sergey Ustiugov, Norway’s Johannes Klaebo and Richard Jouve of France qualified fastest for the quarter-finals later on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Himani Sarkar and Jacqueline Wong)