FILE UNDER -- Nordic

TORINO: XC: Sweden sweeps the team sprints

TORINO: XC: Sweden sweeps the team sprints{mosimage}PRAGELATO, Italy – Sweden waited 18 years to win a gold medal in cross-country, then got two of them in 20 minutes. It was an improbable result for a nation thought to have lost its edge in nordic skiing.

Lina Andersson’s gutsy effort in the final straight helped her and teammate Anna Dahlberg edge Canada’s Beckie Scott and Sara Renner on the way to victory in the inaugural women’s sprint Tuesday in 16 minutes, 36.9 seconds.

Then, while the women had barely finished hugging each other and were still in top celebration form, the men’s team of Bjoern Lind and Thobias Fredriksson made the day that much sweeter for the Swedes.

Lind anchored the team and waited until the final 100 meters to make his move, pushing from third to first to beat the tandem of Jens Arne Svartedal and Tor Arne Hetland of Norway in 17 minutes, 2.9 seconds.

“It’s totally fantastic,” Andersson said. “After 18 years, we had two medals in 20 minutes. I don’t know what’s happening. … It’s unbelievable that we won the gold medal, and then the boys.”

Sweden hadn’t won a gold in cross- country since Gunde Svan’s victory in the 50 km race at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, as well as a win in the men’s relay. And these two golds marked the country’s first in a Winter Olympics since 1994 in Lillehammer, where the Swedish hockey team took home gold along with Alpine skier Pernilla Wiberg.

“Two golds for Sweden – you couldn’t ask for anything more,” Fredriksson said. “The sun is shining on Sweden today. Both teams did a really good tactical race. We knew we had strong teams heading in, so we thought we had a chance. To win two golds like this you have to have everything go your way, and we did. It was a perfect day for Sweden.”

Andersson saw Scott go past her for a moment in the final stretch, then found the energy for one final push. Scott came in six-tenths of a second behind and Finland’s pair of Aino Kaisa Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen took the bronze.

Russia’s duo of Ivan Alypov and Vassili Rotchev earned the bronze in the men’s race.

Germany’s Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, a relay gold medalist at the Salt Lake City Olympics, was cleared Monday after retesting following a five-day suspension for high hemoglobin levels and teamed with Viola Bauer to finish fifth.

World Cup leader Marit Bjoergen of Norway returned to action after pulling out less than midway through Sunday’s 15 km pursuit with a stomach problem. She and Ella Gjomle had the fastest time out of the two semifinals Tuesday in 17:14.4, but came in 11.2 seconds behind the winning Swedish duo.

“She’s feeling good – no fatigue, no stomach pain,” Norwegian team doctor Petter Hans Stokke said. “She’s been sick for two days, so we were not sure.”

Scott and Renner, second in the first semifinal, were slowed after Renner broke a pole during the third lap and fell from first to fourth.

“The worst thing I could have done was panic and start screaming,” Renner said. “Luckily, I got a pole right away. It was a bit long, but it was manageable.”

Each female skier completed three laps of just more than 1.1 kilometers, while the men did three 1.2-kilometer loops.

Sergei Dolidovich of Belarus received a second five-day suspension before the race began after testing positive for high levels of hemoglobin and wasn’t able to start.

His teammate, Aleksandr Lasutkin, was one of four skiers cleared Monday to compete, but Dolidovich’s second failed test kept the tandem out of competition and Belarus didn’t have a replacement available.

Last week, a dozen skiers were given five-day suspensions for elevated levels of hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that can increase endurance. All of those scheduled to compete Tuesday had to be retested, but some put off their tests because they weren’t scheduled to compete Tuesday.

– The Associated Press

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