Norway team wins men's relay to take 7th straight Nordic worlds gold
By Daniella Matar, APVAL DI FIEMME, Italy -- Petter Northug gave Norway its seventh straight relay gold at the Nordic world championships on Friday, using his trademark sprinting ability to beat Calle Halfvarsson of Sweden down the final stretch.
March 3, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
Halfvarsson tried to attack on the final climb to shake off the Norwegian and had a small lead entering the finish straight. But Northug is renowned as the world's top sprinter at the end of long-distance races and blew past the Swede with 100 meters to go, then shrugged nonchalantly as he crossed the line.
It was Northug's second gold of these worlds, and ninth overall.
“It was a very tactical last leg, with four or five teams together,” Northug said. “Like every relay championships everyone was keeping their power until the end, everyone was waiting for someone to attack and it never happened.
“I expected Italy to attack early but it didn't. I just tried to stay in touch for the last lap and I did that.”
Norway's team of Tord Asle Gjerdalen, Eldar Roenning, Sjur Roethe and Northug finished in 1 hour, 41 minutes, 37.2 seconds. The Swedish team of Daniel Richardsson, Johan Olsson, Marcus Hellner and Halfvarsson was 1.2 seconds behind.
Russia finished 2.4 seconds back for bronze, denying home team Italy its first medal of the championships by 0.2 seconds.
The three teams on the podium were the same as in the women's relay on Thursday.
Northug and Roenning have now been part of the past four successful relay teams at the world championships, with Gjerdalen joining them for the past two. It is Roethe's first world title.
Having won Wednesday's individual 15K race, Northug can equal his haul of three golds in each of the previous two championships with a victory in Sunday's 50k.
It would also see him surpass Bjoern Daehlie as the most successful male cross-country skier at the world championships.
Olympic champion Sweden also finished second to Norway in Oslo two years ago. The Norwegian men's team has only lost one relay at the worlds since 1991.
“I am disappointed that it is so close to gold, but Petter was too strong today,” Halfvarsson said. “But there will be an Olympics next year and then I should attack better.”
Norway tops the medal table with 17, including seven golds. Russia is second with five, two more than the United States and France.
Italy was in with a chance thanks in part to an excellent second leg from the 40-year-old Giorgio Di Centa, a double Olympic champion in Turin in 2006.
However, it was the youngest man in the race, 20-year-old Sergey Ustiugov, who held off Italy's David Hofer to claim bronze for Russia and his teammates Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin and Evgeniy Belov.
“We were all really good, always up with the leaders,” Hofer said. “Maybe I made a mistake in the last downhill, where I should have been second or third, instead I remained behind the Russian and he beat me in the sprint.
“It's a pity, but we have to continue working hard on this road, we hope to do it again in the relay at the Olympics.”
It was a slow race and there was little to separate six of the teams for most of the course.
Axel Teichmann pulled Germany back into contention on the final lap, making up nearly 15 seconds to take the lead, but a fall, a broken ski pole and a broken ski cost him dearly and the two-time world champion finished 45.5 seconds off the pace.
“I've never had so much bad luck in my career,” he said.
Finland's Matti Heikkinen also raced a fantastic final leg, taking advantage of the slow pace of the leading group to make up a gap of more than 1 minute, 25 seconds.