Italian Roommates Go 1-2 at Nordic Worlds

Italian Roommates Go 1-2 at Nordic Worlds{mosimage}OBERSTDORF, Germany (AP) _ Pietro Piller Cottrer and Fulvio Valbusa scored a big upset Thursday in the 15-kilometer freestyle, the first 1-2 finish for Italy’s men at the Nordic world championships.

“For me, it was like a victory when I heard Pietro was ahead during the race,” Valbusa said. “It’s not only that we are good friends, we are like brothers.”

Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen was 11th on the opening day of the two-week event. He was bidding to win a cross-country medal after capturing four golds in biathlon at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

In the women’s 10K freestyle, Katerina Neumannova gained her first gold medal at a major championship during a 14-year career. She was timed in 26 minutes, 27.6 seconds, finishing 1.2 seconds ahead of Russia’s Julija Tchepalova. Norway’s Marit Bjorgen, the favorite, was third, 15.2 behind.

Neumannova had collected silver and bronze medals at the Olympics and worlds during her 14-year career, but the gold proved elusive. She fell on her back after the race and shook her hands in glee.

“Of course, it’s a dream,” she said. “I’ve won so many silvers.”

Piller Cottrer covered a tough course, heavy with fresh snow, in 34:49.7. Valbusa, his roommate on the road, was 11.2 back. Norway’s Ruud Hofstad finished third, 14.2 behind, for his first major medal.

“I’ve had so much trouble this season with the skis, my back, I couldn’t even think about making the podium,” Piller Cottrer said. “Now I’m world champion _ it’s great. It will be a double celebration.”

He hadn’t finished better than seventh in a World Cup meet all season while the best from his 36-year-old roommate, Valbusa, was 11th. Overall World Cup leader Axel Teichmann of Germany was seventh.

Tchepalova, who won two gold medals at the 2002 Olympics, was almost a minute ahead of Neumannova with 1.6 kilometers left before the Czech charged.

Bjorgen has dominated the World Cup season with seven wins, including three over 10 kilometers or longer. She had long been known only as a sprint specialist.

Neumannova has cut back on her training because she has a 20-month-old daughter.

“She’s made my life better,” Neumannova said. “But it is hard to find the time.”
– The Associated Press

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