Norway Flexes Its Muscle at Nordic Worlds

Norway Flexes Its Muscle at Nordic Worlds{mosimage}OBERSTDORF, Germany (AP) – Olympic champion Frode Estil led a sweep of the men’s 50-kilometer race for Norway, which underlined its power at the Nordic world championships on Sunday.

With heavy snow blowing across the course, the Norwegians pulled away from a pack of 35 skiers on a steep final climb, with Estil winning in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 10.1 seconds on the final day of the two-week event.

“This is very special to me,” Estil said. “I’ve almost won gold several times at the worlds.”

Germany’s Ronny Ackermann spoiled what could have been a perfect day for Norway. He captured the Nordic combined 7.5k sprint in 20 minutes, 15.6 seconds, with Norwegians taking silver and bronze. Magnus Moan finished 11.1 seconds back and Kristian Hammer was 37.7 behind. Todd Lodwick of the United States was 13th.

Estil, who won gold and silver at the Salt Lake City Olympics, showed off his sprinting skills on the downhill stretch run against Anders Auckland in the classic mass start event, edging his countryman by 0.7 seconds.

Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset was third, 1.4 back, capping Norway’s domination of the most punishing and prestigious cross-country race.

Afterward, the three formed a circle and celebrated Norway recording a seventh gold medal at the world championships, equaling the number the country won at home in Oslo 23 years ago.

“This was a great day for Norway – this was the first time we won the 50k since 1966,” Estil said.

Norway claimed gold in six of 12 cross-country events, topping the standings with 19 medals. The haul exceeded the nation’s performance at the 2003 worlds of five titles and 15 medals.

In the 50k, the snowfall was so thick at times that many skiers threw away their goggles because the snow melted on them.

The weather and tough terrain kept the Norwegians – racing as a block – in check. They waited to attack on the towering final hill, leaving a big pack in their wake. At the bottom, Estil and Hjelmeset bolted in front, with Auckland surfacing in the stretch run.

“It was a very slow race because of the snow, so I tried to rest up and avoid the accidents,” Estil said. “I knew it was coming down to a sprint.”

Ackermann’s triumph Sunday never appeared in doubt after he finished second in the jumping portion of the Nordic combined, with only 16-year-old Finn Anssi Koivuranta leaping further.

“This was the best worlds for me, the most beautiful,” Ackermann said. “The atmosphere was great – I’ll never forget this.”

Finland’s Hannu Manninen, who won six straight World Cup events this season, finished eighth. The World Cup leader still hasn’t won an individual medal in a combined nine Olympics and world championships.

These championships featured good crowds and not a single doping case, a welcome change for a sport dogged by scandals in recent years.

“It will be difficult for other organizers to match this level in the future,” said Gian Franco Kasper, president of the world skiing body.

– copyright Associated Press

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