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Daehlie Wins 50K for Record Eighth Gold

By Robert Millward
Associated Press
Saturday, February 21, 1998; 11:35 p.m. EST

HAKUBA, Japan — In the last and toughest race of the Nagano Games, Bjorn Daehlie showed why he is the greatest cross-country skier of his time.

Already a two-time winner here, Daehlie pushed himself to victory in the 50-kilometer event Sunday (Saturday night EST) and won his eighth career gold medal.

Steadily pulling through the leaders until he reached the front with around 8 kilometers to go, the Norwegian collapsed at the finish line to win in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 08.2 seconds.

When he was hauled to his feet a few minutes later, Daehlie had to be supported by a Norwegian team official as he struggled to regain his breath and his body started to recover.

"It think it's my hardest race ever,'' Daehlie said. "Before the race, I didn't believe in a medal at all. Mentally, I was finished with these Olympics. I was quite tired.

"But then, in the second stage of the race I saw that my time was good and I thought that perhaps I could get a medal. In the last 2 or 3 kilometers I was completely exhausted.''

The victory gave Daehlie his 12th career medal. No Winter Games athlete has won more and now he has to decide whether to aim at Salt Lake City in four years time, when he will be 34.

"Right now I feel I have finished my ski career. I've no motivation,'' he said. "I will talk things over with my family and decide in the spring what to do.''

Daehlie won three gold medals at Albertville in 1992 and two at Lillehammer in '94. He won the 10K classical here and was part of Norway's triumphant 40K relay.

The overall Olympic record for gold medals is nine, shared by Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi, Larysa Latynina and Mark Spitz. Latynina, a former Soviet gymnast, holds the record for most Olympic medals with 18.

Daehlie's winning margin was 8.1 seconds ahead of Sweden's Niklas Jonsson, who also was sprawled at the finish line when Daehlie came across. The two seemed to exchange a few words of congratulations as they lay side by side in the snow.

The bronze medal went to Austria's Christian Hoffmann, whom Daehlie overtook in the closing stages. After leading the Norwegian by two-tenths of a second at the 41.9K stage, Hoffman came home 53.6 seconds behind.

The 50K is the ultimate cross-country test of stamina and strategy, and Daehlie got it just right.

Russia's Alexei Prokurorov, winner of the 30K classical at the Calgary Olympics 10 years ago, led the field by about four seconds with the race one-third complete.

Daehlie and teammate Thomas Alsgaard, considered the two leading contenders for the gold medal, were sixth and seventh by this stage, only 2.3 seconds apart but with more than a half minute to make up on the leader.

At just after halfway, Vladimir Smirnov, the defending champion from Kazakstan and first to go of the 79 starters, had Jonsson, Daehlie and Hoffmann a few meters behind him. But because the skiers go out at 30-second intervals, Smirnov, who announce his retirement after the race, was in 10th place.

Skiing with rivals close by can be an advantage in terms of helping to maintain momentum, and Daehlie used the situation to creep up through to join the front-runners on the leader board.

Italy's Fulvio Valbusa, in third, was stride for stride with Alsgaard. But Prokurorov, skiing with no one for company, paid for it and lost the lead to Hoffmann soon after halfway.

By two-thirds through the race, Daehlie had moved up to second ahead of Prokurorov but still 29 seconds behind Hoffmann. After that it was Valbusa, Johnsson and Alsgaard with 1 minute, 14 seconds between first and sixth.

Daehlie increased the pressure on the Austrian and only a fifth of a second separated them with 8.1K to go. It was only a matter of time before the Norwegian moved ahead as the Austrian faded and then Jonsson, skiing with the Daehlie around the Snow Harp course, saw a chance of unexpected glory.

Although they were virtually side by side, Jonsson, who started the race a half minute before the Norwegian, knew he had 30 seconds to make up.

With the finish line about 800 meters away, he made a big push for the line and opened up a gap of perhaps 60 meters on Daehlie. But it wasn't enough.

By the time Jonsson charged over the line and collapsed, Daehlie was barely 50 meters behind and, with his legs finally giving up, also crumpled to the snow as soon as he had won the gold.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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