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Norway take 6th win at worlds, Germany get 1st

VAL DI FIEMME, Italy -- Norway claimed its sixth victory of the Nordic skiing world championships in the women's 4x5-kilometer cross-country relay on Thursday, while Eric Frenzel picked up Germany's first gold medal by winning the Nordic combined event.

Marit Bjoergen anchored a team with Heidi Weng, Therese Johaug and Kristin Stoermer Steira to victory, beating the Swedish team of Ida Ingemarsdotter, Emma Wiken, Anna Haag and Charlotte Kalla by 26.2 seconds.

Bjoergen, who has now won 11 world titles in her career, even had time to grab a Norwegian flag from the crowd as she skied down the final straight.

Frenzel's triumph was equally emphatic as he beat Bernhard Gruber of Austria by 36.7 seconds.

Kamil Stoch of Poland won the individual large hill ski jump.

Norway has a commanding lead in the medal table with 16, including six golds. Russia is second with four medals overall, one more than the United States and France.

Olympic and reigning world champion Norway was the favorite going into the relay race. The quartet had already picked up six individual medals and took the top four places in Saturday's skiathlon.

“We weren't sure of making it, it wasn't easy out there,” Bjoergen said. “All four of us had to work very hard and focus, and our skis had to be perfect. We knew we had to fight the whole time.”

A fast final leg from Yulia Tchekaleva — who won bronze in Tuesday's individual 10K — enabled Russia to finish third, 45.8 seconds behind Norway. It was also the fastest leg of the race.

Team sprint winner Jessica Diggins also raced a quick final leg for the United States to finish fourth. Finland had tussled with Sweden for second for most of the race, but crossed the line in fifth.

Poland had led at the halfway stage after an impressive second leg from Justyna Kowalczyk, which saw her make up nearly 40 seconds to overtake Johaug. However, the Poles ended the race in ninth.

Bjoergen won her third gold medal in Val di Fiemme. The three-time Olympic champion, who also won silver in the 10K, is only three victories away from matching Yelena Valbe's record of 14 world championship wins.

It is the 32-year-old Bjoergen's 18th championship medal, beating Bjoern Daehlie's record of 17.

“I don't focus on how many medals I have,” Bjoergen said. “I'm living in the now. When I stop skiing, then I can think of how many medals I have.”

Frenzel claimed his second world title, after winning the normal hill event two years ago. He missed out on a medal in this year's event by half a second.

The 24-year-old Frenzel led from start to finish in the cross-country after earning 144.1 points with a jump of 138.5 meters on the large hill.

“It was probably the best jump of my life,” Frenzel said. “I am overwhelmed. It was hard after the first events didn't go as expected.”

He started 14 seconds ahead of nearest challenger Cristoph Bieler and soon extended his lead to nearly half a minute.

Behind him a chasing pack of 11 athletes formed to battle for silver and bronze.

Frenzel led by more than 48 seconds at the halfway stage and increased his advantage to more than a minute before slowing down on the final straight to attach a German flag to his ski pole and wave to the crowd as he crossed the line.

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From left, Norway's team Marit Bjoergen, Kristin Stoermer Steira, Hiedi Weng and Therese Johaug pose on the podium after winning the Women's relay 4x5km event of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at Val Di Fiemme Cross Country stadium in Cavalese, northern Italy on Thursday, Feb. 28. (AFP)

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