FILE UNDER -- Nordic

TORINO: XC: Italy men win relay gold

TORINO: XC: Italy men win relay gold{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – Cristian Zorzi skied brilliantly in the final leg Sunday to lift Italy to its third gold medal of the Olympics with a victory in the 4×10-kilometer cross-country race.

Zorzi came through the stadium to cheering fans in green, red and white hats waving Italian flags through the falling snow, finishing in 1 hour, 43 minutes, 45.7 seconds — 15.7 seconds ahead of Germany.

Sweden won the bronze on a day the Austrians found themselves the target of a doping raid. The Austrian team was lapped and finished last.

Italy was in fourth place but close behind when Pietro Piller Cottrer headed out for his 10 km leg, and Zorzi extended the lead in the final leg.

Once they were through, the foursome — also including Fulvio Valbusa and Giorgio di Centa — locked arms, raised the flag in their hands and jumped up and down.

It was another disappointing day for Norway, which finished fifth and is yet to win a cross-country gold at these Games.

Norway, Sweden and Germany were 1-2-3 until just before the first exchange, but Canada skier Devon Kershaw was first through in foggy, cold conditions on the Pragelato Plan course — seven-tenths of a second ahead of the favored Norwegian team. The fog lifted about 30 minutes into the race and light snow began to fall.

Lukas Bauer, who won silver in the 15 km classical race Friday, was the No. 2 skier for the Czech Republic and gave his team the lead through two legs.

The Norwegian foursome of Jens Arne Svartedal, Odd Bjorn Hjelmeset, Estil Frode and Tore Ruud Hofstad was trying for the country’s first cross-country gold at the Torio Olympics.

Estil had been a favorite in the 15 km classical event Friday but finished a distant 17th after struggling with his wax. That was after he took silver in the pursuit race on Feb. 12.

Each athlete skis for 10 kilometers, the first two using classical technique and the second two allowed to skate.

U.S. men 12th in relay
The United States men’s 4×10-kilometer cross-country relay team ranked ninth after the first leg and finished the event in 12th.

The United States team is Kris Freeman (Andover, N.H.), Lars Flora (Anchorage, Alaska), Andrew Johnson (Greensboro, Vt.) and Carl Swenson (Park City, Utah).

“I skied a great 7.5K then the final hill totally killed me,” Flora said. “This second Olympic experience is just as good as the first. I was expecting to do a lot better. I had higher standards for my second Games and I’m disappointed with my results.”

Veteran Swenseon added, “Our standards as a team were really high after our fifth-place finish in 2002. We were looking to match or better that here.

“Kris had an outstanding first leg, we were right in it at the pass. But we faded from there. Once you get out of the lead pack, it’s almost impossible to climb back in.”

“The Olympics are such a huge thing because people look at medals,” U.S. coach Trond Nystad said. “Medaling is different for everyone. For athletes to come out here and ski their best, whatever level that might be, that’s the medal I look at.”

– The Associated Press/USOC

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