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Russians Win Cross-Country Relay

By Robert Millward
Associated Press
Sunday, February 15, 1998; 9:51 p.m. EST

HAKUBA, Japan — Larissa Lazutina collected her third gold medal of the Nagano Olympics and Olga Danilova gained her second as the Russians left their Norwegian rivals trailing to win the women's 20-kilometer cross-country relay.

Winner of the 5K classical and the 10K pursuit last week, Lazutina took a 22.8-second lead from Elena Vaelbe going into the final leg and crossed the finish line in 55 minutes, 13.5 seconds.

The result Monday (Sunday night EST) means that Russia, with Nina Gavryliouk in the first leg, has won all four women's cross-country titles in Nagano with the 30K to come on Friday. Lazutina has three golds and a silver and Danilova has two golds and a silver.

Vaelbe, thought to be sidelined for the relay because of a chest illness that has plagued her since the start of the games, effectively won the gold for the Russians by overturning a slim Norwegian lead at halfway and opening up a huge lead for Lazutina, who waved a big Russian flag as she crossed the finish line, after picking it from a fan 80 yards from home.

Like Vaelbe, it was Lazutina's third relay gold medal in a row after Russian triumphs at Albertville in 1992 and Lillehammer in '94, but a first for Danilova, who also won the 15K here.

Norway, who had Bente Martinsen, Marit Mikkelsplass, Elin Nilsen and Anita Moen Guidon in the lineup, placed second, 24.5 seconds behind and the Italian quartet of Karin Moroder, Gabriella Paruzzi, Manuela Di Centa and Stefania Belmondo took the bronze, 1:39.8 behind the winning team.

Martinsen, Norway's bronze medalist in the 5K last Tuesday and World Cup standings leader, opened a 2.3-second lead over the other 15 starters.

But Gavryliouk, who finished one place behind her in the 5K race, overtook her 1,500 meters from home and handed over a half-second lead to Danilova.

Danilova was up against Mikkelsplass, a top-six finisher in two races here, and the Norwegian overtook the Russian at the 7K mark.

With one kilometer to go of the second leg, Danilova switched onto another line and tried to pass but Mikkelsplass held on and handed over a one-second lead to the weakest member of the Norwegian team, Nilsen, who was up against one of the big stars of the Russian team, Vaelbe.

Vaelbe, who won five gold medals at last year's World Championships but finished only 17th in the 15K race here complaining of illness, quickly took the lead and her powerful bursts on the uphills and straights opened up an 8.8-second lead by the 13.4K time point.

She continued to pull away from the tiring Norwegian and handed over a 22.8-second lead to Lazutina, with Switzerland third, 1:17.8 behind the leader but only a half-second ahead of Germany.

Italy, with the fast-finishing Belmondo going last, won a close, four-nation race for the bronze, edging Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic with only 5.4 seconds covering the four teams.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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