Published February 23, 2014
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Alexander Legkov led a Russian sweep of the men's 50-kilometer cross-country race Sunday, giving the host nation its first gold medal in the sport at the Sochi Olympics.
Legkov won a four-way sprint to the finish at the end of the freestyle mass-start race, pulling away from teammates Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov on the final straight.
On a perfect final day for the hosts, Vylegzhanin was second after beating Chernousov in a photo finish, 0.7 seconds behind Legkov. Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway was fourth, 1 second behind the winner.
The sweep cemented Russia's position atop the medals table of the Sochi Games, with 12 golds and 32 medals overall.
Russia had fallen short of expectations in the cross-country competition until the final race, with only two silver medals from the men's relay and team sprint events.
But like the country's biathlon team — which won the concluding men's relay for its first gold on Saturday — the Russians got it together in the final event.
After most of the leading contenders stuck together for the first 48K, Legkov upped the tempo and created the four-man breakaway group. Legkov was in front coming into the stadium and stayed there the whole way as none of the other three could match his final sprint.
Legkov had shown in the men's relay last Sunday that he was in good form, setting the fastest time of all skiers on the third leg to put Russia in position to get the silver.
Aside from Sundby, the overall World Cup leader, none of the other pre-race favorites could match the Russian's speed toward the end. Johan Olsson of Sweden, the 50K world champion, was 32.1 seconds back in ninth place, while defending Olympic champion Petter Northug of Norway came 18th, 44.5 back.
The race capped a miserable Olympics for Northug, who leaves Sochi without a medal after earning four in Vancouver in 2010, including two golds.
Dario Cologna's chances for a third gold in Sochi ended when his left ski broke shortly after the 45K mark. The Swiss skier received a new one, but had lost too much time to the leaders to catch up and finished 27th.
Sergei Dolidovic of Belarus was fifth, 14.3 seconds behind.