Russian skier collapses in despair after Beijing medal agony
Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva came desperately close to adding another medal to her tally at the Beijing Games before collapsing in despair and exhaustion after missing out by the narrowest possible margin.
Nepryaeva set the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on its way at the weekend when she claimed a brilliant silver medal in the women’s 15km skiathlon, which was her team’s first of the Beijing Games.
The 26-year-old, who also won a bronze in PyeongChang four years ago, came within touching distance of picking up another medal to go with those accomplishments at the Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Centre on Thursday.
Having overturned an eight-second deficit to put herself within touching distance of third place in the 10km classic, Nepryaeva sped toward the finish line in a desperate bid to pip the time set by Finland’s Krista Parmakoski.
Extending her right leg to cross the line, Nepryaeva skied on momentarily to glance at the official standings, only to see that she had finished a gut-wrenching 0.1 seconds behind the Finn.
That was all that separated the pair across the 10km course as Nepryaeva clocked a time of 28:37.9 to Parmakoski’s 28:37.8.
Nepryaeva lay face-down in the snow, breathing heavily before rolling onto her back. The Russian was eventually seen being comforted by Swedish competitor Ebba Andersson.
The race was won by Norway’s Therese Johaug, who picked up her second gold of the Beijing Games after toping the podium in the skiathlon.
Behind Johuag were Finnish duo Kerttu Niskanen and Parmakoski, who claimed silver and bronze respectively.
Johaug clocked a time of 28:06.03 to win gold – just 0.4 seconds ahead of Niskanen. Parmakoski was just over 30 seconds back, followed by Nepryaeva.
Speaking to Russia’s Match TV, a distraught Nepryaeva said: “Everything felt good, and the skis worked brilliantly. I have nothing to say.”
Russian cross-country skiing boss Elena Vyalbe was more upbeat, saying: “It’s upsetting, but it’s not a tragedy.
“Natalia has a minimum of three more races ahead [in Beijing]. She was fourth today, if it had been a gap of three seconds, it would be less upsetting than one-tenth of a second.
“But it will pass, tomorrow she’ll be training again.”
Elsewhere in the field in Thursday’s race, ROC skier Yulia Stupak finished seventh, while Tatiana Sorina was 10th and Lilia Vasilieva came in 15th.