Russian ski superstar wins third Olympic gold in brutal conditions
After a shortened race that was rescheduled because of biting winds and freezing temperatures, Russian skier Alexander Bolshunov was left kissing the snow and dedicating his third gold medal of the Winter Olympics to his wife in a heroic end to the Beijing Games for the ice-cool snow superstar.
The International Ski Federation cut the cross-country mass start race down from its original 50 kilometer length and postponed the start by an hour in a bid to reduce the time exposed to the extreme conditions by the athletes, many of whom wore tape around their faces and had frost forming around their mouths by the end of the race.
Bolshunov needed a little more than one hour, 11 minutes and 32 seconds to storm to victory in a thriller, having been part of a five-man breakaway group in the final kilometer.
Compatriot Ivan Yakimushkin crossed the line 5.5 seconds behind Bolshunov for silver, and there would have been a Russian sweep on the podium but for the intervention of Norway's Simen Hegstad Krueger, who took bronze by finishing almost four seconds ahead of Artem Maltsev.
“I don’t consider myself the king of skis," said Bolshunov, talking to Russia 1 via Championat about the name some have given him after he added another gold medal to his skiathlon and relay titles at the 2022 Games.
"In principle, when [we] were running, it was not so cold – it was possible to run 50 kilometers. But it is a phenomenal result. Tomorrow a new day is coming – there is still much to strive for."
The 25-year-old could also be described as phenomenal. Skiathlon world champion Bolshunov now has nine Olympic medals, justifying his appearance in gold boots for the ceremony.
"I bow before them," he said of his team and the Russian Olympic Committee. "I want to thank the coaches, my coach Yuri Viktorovich.
"I want to thank my family and friends for their support and support. And to my wife, Anna – she has a birthday in a few days. I dedicate this medal to her."
As a former youth world champion, Bolshunov's spouse is also no slouch on the slopes.
Russian ski team coach Yuri Borodavko said Bulshunov had been concerned about the enforced change to the format of the race.
"He was very worried that today they reduced the distance, because he understood that this was not in his favor," he said.
"But this outcome of the race also pleased us. Albeit not with a big advantage, he still won – leaving no chance to anyone.
“When Alexander had his first victory, I congratulated him and said: 'You have completed the most important task. You became an Olympic champion.
"'Now I want the prefixes to change - two-fold, three-fold.' And the title of Olympic champion is forever.
"He was very composed in all of the [races]. He approached all aspects of preparation and recovery very responsibly."
FIS have just shortened the Olympic 50km to a 28km because it's a bit cold and windy. I don't see that that will make it any warmer or less windy.🤷♂️ What a f@*king joke!— Andrew Musgrave (@musgraveandrew) February 19, 2022
Johannes Klebo, the Norwegian World Cup leader, suffered a cruel end to his campaign, admitting that a virus had largely confined him to the bathroom rather than his bed the night before the race.
The double gold medalist in 2018 bravely started the race before falling back and withdrawing at around the midway point.
British skier Andrew Musgrave, who finished 12th, was not impressed with the decision to shorten the race, calling it a "f*cking joke" on social media beforehand.
"[Organizers] have just shortened the Olympic 50km to a 28km because it's a bit cold and windy," he wrote. "I don't see that that will make it any warmer or less windy."