Johnny Spillane yesterday became the first American to win a gold medal at the Nordic world championships, drawing inspiration from a diabetic teammate's strong performance a week earlier.
Spillane captured the Nordic combined sprint in Val di Fiemme, Italy, to give the United States its first world championship medal since cross-country skiing pioneer Bill Koch earned a bronze in 1982.
Among the women, Russians Olga Savialova and Elena Burukina finished 1-2 in the 30K freestyle cross-country race. Savialova won her first major title.
In the ski jump, Poland's Adam Malysz retained his normal-hill title. Norway's Tommy Ingebrigtsen was second and Japan's Noriaki Kasai was third. Alan Alborn of the United States finished 29th.
Spillane was followed by Ronny Ackermann of Germany and Felix Gottwald of Austria. The American erased a 28-second deficit at the start of the sprint, moved into a tie for fourth place and broke away from the leading group in the final meters.
"I just wanted to go out there and lay it on the line," Spillane said. "I knew there was a chance of a medal, but I wasn't expecting victory."
Spillane was buoyed by Kris Freeman's fourth-place finish in a 15K race last Saturday. Freeman, a diabetic who recently overcame a painful muscular condition, stunned many of the top cross-country skiers by leading the first leg of a relay Tuesday.
"His result really fired us up to do well," Spillane said.
Spillane followed his jump of 124 meters with a strong effort in the sprint. Celebrating wildly as he crossed the line, Spillane beat Ackermann and Gottwald by 1.3 seconds.
Savialova, third in the 15K classical and 10K skiathon, was timed in 1 hour 14 minutes 29.8 seconds -- 15.3 seconds faster than Burukina. Estonia's Kristina Smigun finished third, 26.9 seconds back. American Aubrey Smith was 39th.
* FIGURE SKATING: Irina Slutskaya channeled annoyance into accomplishment, moving into first place at the Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg, with a skillful free skate after trailing Sasha Cohen in the short program.
"I stepped onto the ice angry," the Russian world champion said. "You have to be able to engage yourself."
The first day of the Grand Prix Final presents particular concentration problems because it's a grind -- there's a short program and a free skate. This year was the first time Cohen had gone through this gauntlet, and she may have overestimated her stamina.
Her free skate was top-loaded with jumps at the beginning -- five, including two combinations, in the first two minutes. After the initial flurry of clean jumps, she fell on a triple loop.
"It's been a learning experience," Cohen said.
Slutskaya, more experienced at Grand Prix demands, paced her free skate more evenly and managed a triple-double-double combination to earn marks of 5.9 for technical merit and 6.0 for presentation. But even she felt worn out afterward.
"I've been on the ice five times today," she sighed, referring to practice and performance.
Viktoria Volchkova of Russia was third after the first free skate. The second free skate is today and counts for 50 percent of the score, but Volchkova could win only if Cohen and Slutskaya fail abysmally.
Russia's Evgeny Plushenko also was conserving his energy, skipping the last jump of his planned quad toe-triple toe-triple loop opening combination. He also was off-balance on his usually reliable triple lutz, but remained in first place.
"Absolutely, it's difficult," he said, referring to the two-program day. "And it's the end of the season, everyone's tired."
Countrymen Ilia Klimkin and Alexander Abt were second and third.
* ALPINE SKIING: Renate Goetschl of Austria won a World Cup super giant slalom in Innsbruck, Austria, a victory that could help erase doubts about her skiing following a knee injury a year ago.
Carole Montillet of France was second and Alexandra Meissnitzer of Austria was third. Austrians captured four of the top six places.
For the United States, Jonna Mendes was eighth and Kirsten Clark finished 20th. Caroline Lalive was 21st and Libby Ludlow was 26th.
Goetschl covered the Patscherkofel course in 1 minute 26.18 seconds, edging Montillet by 0.03 seconds.