Olympics-Cross-country skiing-Tough course provides golden moments at Beijing Games – Metro US

Olympics-Cross-country skiing-Tough course provides golden moments at Beijing Games

Cross-Country Skiing – Men’s 50km Mass Start Free
Cross-Country Skiing – Men’s 50km Mass Start Free

ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov and Norway’s Therese Johaug grabbed most of the headlines at the Beijing Olympics, each collecting three gold medals in a place where the biggest challenge to the athletes often came from the competition venue itself.

A combination of altitude, slow snow, low temperatures and bitingly cold winds made the Olympic races even more gruelling than normal, demanding both huge physical effort and shrewd tactical planning to ensure success.

Representing the Russian Olympic Committee, Bolshunov got the balance almost perfect, timing his attacks and working in tandem with team mates to set himself up for victory, and wisely skipping the sprint to conserve energy.

The individual gold medals at her final Olympics for Johaug are a silver lining to the cloud that still hangs over her following a doping suspension that caused her to miss the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, but she signed off in style with a dominant win in the women’s 30km freestyle race.

American Jessie Diggins followed up her sensational team sprint gold in 2018 with an individual sprint bronze medal and a shock silver in the 30km, indicating that American cross-country skiing may well be here to stay.

The sprint specialist also became the first non-European to take a medal in the women’s 30km event, and with her three medals she has become the face of American cross-country skiing.

Things were less positive for Sweden, one of the stalwarts of the sport, who only managed one gold and two silver medals, with their men not medaling at all in a disappointing Games.

The biggest disappointment for the Swedes came in the women’s team sprint as they were edged out of the gold medal position by Germany, and the Germans also got the better of them in the 4x5km relay, taking the silver ahead of their Nordic rivals, who finished third.

The star power though came from Norway’s Klaebo, who bounced back from a disappointing 40th place in the opening skiathlon race to win two gold, one silver and one bronze before a stomach bug wiped out his chances in the men’s 50km race.

The National Cross-Country Skiing Centre itself grabbed many of the headlines as athletes were tested by tough uphill sections and slow snow, magnified by harsh weather later in the Games.

However, the results at the Beijing Games showed that those who put the work in, especially in terms of altitude training were richly rewarded, despite the tough conditions.

(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Michael Perry)

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