WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Switzerland's Dario Cologna won the men's 15-kilometer freestyle cross-country race at the Vancouver Games in his Olympic debut.
Cologna collapsed across the finish line after completing the course in 33 minutes, 36.3 seconds Monday, then stayed down for several seconds while catching his breath and soaking it all in.
"It was an incredible race for me," Cologna said. "I had a very good feeling from the start. I am so happy. I didn't believe that I could win the 15K."
Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer won the silver, finishing 24.6 seconds behind Cologna, and Czech skier Lukas Bauer won the bronze to go with the silver medal he won in the 15-kilometer classical style race in Turin.
Bauer's time was 35.7 seconds slower than Cologna's.
Although the race was wide open, many expected Bauer to battle it out with World Cup leader Petter Northug, the best skier to come out of Norway since the great Bjoern Daehlie.
But the interval start meant Northug, who is expected to dominate the Vancouver Olympics, couldn't use the ferocious sprinting ability that lets him dominate mass-start events.
Because the 24-year-old Norwegian is likely to compete in all six events in Vancouver — including the sprints — he had the luxury of choosing to slow down and save his energy for future races once he realized a podium spot was out of reach.
After trailing by more than eight seconds at the first intermediate mark, Northug seemed to do just that, finishing in 41st place, more than 2 minutes behind the winner.
With Tord Asle Gjerdalen finishing as the best Norwegian in 28th place, it was the worst result ever for the ski-crazed country in an Olympic race. The previous low was when Frode Estil was 16th as the top Norwegian in the 15-kilometer classical in Turin.
Norway failed to win a cross-country gold medal in those Olympics, and Northug is facing enormous pressure to end that drought in Vancouver.