WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Like a support rider on a cycling team, Marcus Hellner did his best to help a teammate secure an Olympic victory.
Then the 24-year-old Swede ended up with the gold himself.
Hellner sprinted away from his rivals near the finish line Saturday to win the men's 30-kilometer cross-country pursuit at the Vancouver Games for his first Olympic medal.
The win came after some nifty team tactics by the Swedish skiers — although it was Hellner's friend and bronze medalist Johan Olsson who was supposed to be celebrating victory.
After Olsson pulled away with a solo breakaway midway through the race, Hellner and fellow Swede Anders Soedergren did their best to slow up the chasing pack, taking turns at the front of the group to disrupt its rhythm.
"I wasn't thinking so much about my own race," Hellner said. "I was just doing a job."
But as Alexander Legkov of Russia started a furious pursuit with 5 kilometers to go, it was Hellner who benefited.
Legkov, Hellner and Tobias Angerer of Germany caught up to Olsson on the last kilometer, and Hellner pulled away from his three remaining competitors after entering the ski stadium, building enough of a lead to sprint alone down the final straight.
"I saw that I got a gap of about a meter, and thought I'll just push for all I'm worth," said Hellner, who finished in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 11.4 seconds for his first Olympic medal. "I didn't look back until there was about 30 meters left, and I saw that I was in the clear. That was a hell of a feeling."
Angerer finished 2.1 seconds behind for the silver medal, and Olsson settled for bronze, 2.8 seconds back. Legkov seemed tired after leading the chase and finished fourth.
Pre-race favorite Petter Northug of Norway also kept up with Legkov as the quartet chased Olsson and seemed to be in perfect position to use his vaunted sprinting ability at the finish line. But he lost ground after his pole broke, forcing him to slow down as he got a replacement. He never recovered and finished 11th.
The race features a mass start with 15K of classical skiing before switching to freestyle for the second half. Olsson started his one-man breakaway almost immediately after the ski change, quickly building a 10-second lead that kept growing over the next 10 kilometers as Hellner and Soedergren worked their slowing-down strategy to perfection.
"When we saw that Johan was getting a gap, me and Anders tried to keep the pace down a little bit so they wouldn't catch him," Hellner said. "But when we caught up, I forgot about Johan. ... I knew that if I do this right, I can take the gold."
The 32-year-old Angerer, who took his third Olympic medal after getting a bronze in both Turin and Salt Lake City, credited the Swedes with a perfect race.
"In the end, they did everything right because they have two on the podium," Angerer said.
Although he still felt fresh toward the end, Angerer said there was nothing he could about Hellner in the final sprint.
"I think the only difference is that he's 10 years younger than me, so he's just a bit faster," he said.
Olsson said he hadn't planned on a breakaway, but felt strong enough after the classical portion to pull away.
"I just felt that I'm going to give it a try, and some people will fall off as they give chase," Olsson said.
When he sensed the others behind him, though, he thought his chance for a medal was gone.
"At first I thought it was all over," he said. "But I realized when Legkov came up next to me that it wasn't so bad. I had some speed left in my legs so I could answer."