Norway wins men's cross-country team sprint

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Petter Northug finally got to do what he does best, and it ended the way it always does.

After getting in position to use his vaunted closing sprint for the first time at the Vancouver Olympics, Northug blew right past Germany's Axel Teichmann to give Norway the gold medal in the men's cross-country team sprint. Teichmann secured the silver medal for Germany, while Russia took bronze.

After being done in by a broken pole in the 30K pursuit — his favorite event — and bad skis on the 15K freestyle, there was nothing standing in Northug's way this time.

"I hoped to get my revenge," Northug said. "When I had the spot I had on the last leg, it was up to me again. And here we are."

At last.

Northug had been expected to dominate the cross-country events in Vancouver, but after three events he had only a bronze in the individual sprint. After his mishap in Saturday's pursuit, the triple world champion and World Cup leader was so angry that he refused to speak to reporters after the race — leading to a storm of criticism and complaints back home.

Now he's smiling again.

"It was great what I did last year (at the worlds), but maybe even bigger today to become Olympic champion," he said. "With the start I had in these championships, maybe it feels even better now to reach my goal."

The freestyle event features a two-man relay, where each skier takes turns going three laps around a 1.6-kilometer course. The Norwegians finished in 19 minutes, 1 second to beat the German duo of Teichmann and Tim Tscharnke by 1.3 seconds. The Russian team of Nikolay Morilov and Alexey Petukhov was 1.5 seconds back in third.

Northug had to do the heavy lifting for Norway throughout the race as his partner Oeystein Pettersen struggled to keep up with his rivals. Pettersen only made the team after sprint specialist Ola Vigen Hattestad pulled out with a sore throat and couldn't match Tscharnke's pace on the fifth lap.

The German pulled away from the pack to give Teichmann a 2-second lead at the final exchange, leaving Northug and Petukhov to give chase.

They caught up on the last downhill section leading into the stadium, and the result was never in doubt after that as Northug flew past Teichmann to enter the final curve in the lead. After pumping his fist as he crossed the finish, Northug collapsed on his back as Pettersen jumped on top of him to celebrate the gold.

After thinking he wasn't going to make the team, Pettersen also finds himself being an Olympic champion.

"I was a little disappointed by my own effort," Pettersen said. "Of course I was lucky to have Petter there."

It wasn't the first time Teichmann has been beaten by Northug on the final sprint, and the German never challenged.

"I wasn't focused on him," Teichmann said. "I was only focused on my own race, and my own technique."

Tscharnke became the youngest man ever to win an Olympic cross-country skiing medal, at 20 years, 71 days.

Canada was a surprising fourth-place finisher, with Kazakhstan in fifth. The United States made the final and finished ninth.

Defending champion Sweden missed the final after Teodor Peterson crashed and broke his pole during his first lap in the semifinal to fall behind. Although 30K pursuit gold medalist Marcus Hellner managed to catch up with the leaders, Peterson seemed banged up and lost ground on the final lap to finish eighth.

Peterson replaced Sweden's top sprinter Emil Joensson, who pulled out with an ear infection.

Belarus was heading for a place in the final before an embarrassing blunder by Leanid Karneyenka, who led the first semifinal heat but took a wrong turn after entering the ski stadium for the final time. After seeing all his competitors whizz by him on an outside track, Karneyenka realized his mistake and pulled up, bending over to hang his head in disappointment.

The spring-like weather conditions at Whistler Olympic Park continued Monday with temperatures around 50 F (9 C), leading to the unusual sight of some European fans lining the course in short sleeved-shirts — or with no shirt at all.

French anchor Cyril Miranda followed suit, skiing the final in a short-sleeved top, but fell out contention after getting tangled up ahead of the fourth exchange.