Russian team crowned Olympic kings in 42-year first
Russian cross-country skiing enjoyed a second gold medal triumph in as many days at the Beijing Games as the men’s 4 x 10km relay team stormed to victory ahead of Norway and France.
After the ROC women’s relay team topped the podium in the 4 x 5km event on Saturday, their countrymen ensured they matched them with a stirring performance in snowy conditions at the Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Center on Sunday.
The gold medal is the ROC’s fourth of the Beijing Games, as relay team member Alexander Bolshunov bagged his second Olympic title after winning the skiathlon crown one week ago.
Alexey Chervotkin, Denis Spitsov, and Sergey Ustiugov made up the Russian quartet who finished in a time of 1:54:50.7 – more than one minute clear of Norway in second and France in third.
The victory is the first time a Russian or Soviet team has won the 4 x 10km relay event in 42 years, with the last title coming at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid.
The ROC team also goes one better than the silver medals they earned in PyeongChang four years ago and in Sochi in 2014.
Already his country’s most decorated male Olympic skier, Bolshunov now has three Beijing medals to his name – enjoying golds in the relay and skiathlon, and a silver in the men’s 15km classical race. That haul adds to the four medals that the 25-year-old earned in PyeongChang four years ago.
Also part of that team in South Korea were Chervotkin – who is now a two-time Olympic medalist – and Spitsov, 25, who has five Olympic medals to his name, including two in Beijing after finishing behind Bolshunov in the skiathlon.
For Ustiugov, 29, it is a maiden Olympic medal.
The image of Ustiugov crossing the line after the final leg in Zhangjiakou, his beard covered in snow, was testament to the arduous, icy conditions in which the race unfolded.
Traditional powerhouses Norway, France and Sweden had all seem set to challenge the ROC ahead of the race, but in the end the Russian team blew them away with a winning margin of just over one minute and seven seconds ahead of Norway.
The Norwegian team had tussled with France for silver for much of the way, but ended with a nine-second cushion. The Swedes were further afield in fourth, finishing more than two minutes behind the ROC.
The cross-country skiing events in Beijing have been a rich source of medals for the ROC team.
In addition to the success from the men – which includes a freestyle sprint bronze medal for Alexander Terentev – the women’s 4 x 5km relay team wrapped a sensational gold medal on Saturday.
The ROC team has risen to seventh overall in the Beijing medal table, just ahead of hosts China. The Russian team total includes four gold, four silver and six bronze medals.