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Cross-country skiing: Russian Bolshunov wins Olympic men's mass start race, shortened by weather

ZHANGJIAKOU, China: Alexander Bolshunov of the Russian Olympic Committee blazed his way to a third Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games, winning the men's 50km title in a gruelling race postponed by an hour and shortened to 30km due to high winds on Saturday.

It was the first time the race was shortened since making its debut in 1924 but it made little difference to Bolshunov, who came in 5.5 seconds ahead of compatriot Ivan Yakimushkin with Simen Hegstad Krueger picking up the bronze for Norway.

Krueger's team-mate Johannes Klaebo had a day to forget, struggling through the first half of the race before dropping out just after the 20km mark as the Russian team tactics paid the perfect dividend.

Skiing his only race in Beijing after being delayed by a positive COVID-19 test, Krueger wasted no time getting out in front together with his Norwegian team-mates as they battled it out with their Russian rivals.

Krueger changed skis at the halfway point and used his improved glide to challenge the Russian quartet that had been keeping pace at the front of the field, but with little support he had a hard time shaking them off.

With a biting wind swirling around the tight, twisting course, Bolshunov tolerated no breakaways, reeling in challengers and controlling the tempo from the front throughout.

Klaebo cut a disappointed figure as he withdrew from the race having never got to grips with the snow or the conditions on the day, and soon the leading group was cut to 10 as the final lap got underway.

Six kilometres from home, Bolshunov began to make his break, thundering away in an effort to split the leading group, and with 2.6km left he accelerated again in an effort to lose Krueger as Yakimushkin joined the fray.

The latter played the role of wingman to perfection, passing Krueger and slowing the pace as Bolshunov blazed around the final bend to his triumphant third gold and his fifth medal overall at the Beijing Games.

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Source: Reuters/ac


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