KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Ola Vigen Hattestad won the men's Olympic cross-country freestyle sprint Tuesday after three of his rivals fell in the final.
On a day of spills and falls in the soft snow, the Norwegian went in front early in the final and avoided the crash behind him, and then held off Teodor Peterson of Sweden for the gold medal. Peterson finished 1.2 seconds behind for silver.
In a strange finish, Emil Joensson of Sweden — who had all but given up earlier in the race after running out of energy — ended up with the bronze after Sergey Ustiugov, Marcus Hellner and Anders Gloeersen were all involved in a crash.
Joensson had dropped far back and was cruising home when Gloeersen, who was in third, fell in the treacherous downhill curve and hit the protective barrier. That ended up dragging down Ustiugov and Hellner as well, and suddenly Joensson had a clear path to the bronze — a medal performance that brought back memories of Stephen Bradbury's short track speedskating gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games after his rivals all fell.
An exhausted Joensson then needed help from a Swedish team official to get up off the snow and leave the finish area.
Warm temperatures have softened the snow over the last two days at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center, and a number of skiers fell on the same downhill section in the qualifying run.
Skiathlon champion Dario Cologna also fell twice in his quarterfinal and was knocked out. Petter Northug of Norway, another pre-race favorite, again looked sluggish and was knocked out in the semis.
Hattestad, meanwhile, had dominant performances throughout the day. He was nearly 2 seconds faster than anyone else in qualifying and won both his quarterfinal and semifinal heats.
Hattestad won both the individual and team sprint at the 2009 worlds, but has struggled for much of this season. However, he won the last World Cup sprint races before the Olympics, which led to the Norwegian coaches dropping another skier from the sprint team in favor of Hattestad.
The Norwegian proved Tuesday they made the right decision.