Cocky Northug leads Norway to x-country team title
Petter Northug taunted Swedish rival Marcus Hellner at the line as he led Norway to relay victory in the Nordic world skiing championships on home snow Friday in Oslo.
Northug sprinted clear of Hellner in the final kilometre for Norway to win the 4x10-kilometre relay in one hour, 40 minutes 10.2 seconds.
It was sweet revenge for Northug, who lost to Hellner in the sprint eight days ago before taking gold in the 30-kilometre pursuit.
"Winning at the championships in Norway is the biggest thing we'll do in our careers," Northug said. "This is the most important relay of our lives."
A good-natured argument erupted among rival fans after the sprint when Swedes called for the uphill where their man had made his move to be renamed "Hellner Hill."
Norwegians were incredulous that their neighbours had the gall to suggest a name change on the very first day of finals, and Northug was determined to put things right.
"If it's going to go down in history as the Hellner Hill then he has to attack harder there," said Northug.
It came as no surprise that his charge on the hill was greeted with ecstatic roars. The ploy worked, and Northug shook off Hellner before rounding the curve into the final straight.
With time to spare, Northug used it to slow down and kiss a finger from each hand and skate sideways over the finishing line.
"My plan was to do a 360 but I didn't have enough time and just did a 90," said Northug. "Maybe next time I can do a 360 or even a 720. When he won the sprint he was standing on one ski, so I also have to do my thing."
Hellner explained that his tactic this time was to wait a bit longer to pounce than he had in the sprint. He also brushed off the manner of Northug's celebrations.
"We congratulate him that he was so good today," said Hellner. "Now we will go home and train and beat him next year."
German anchor Tobias Angerer crossed the line third, 5.7 seconds back.
"There was a lot of pressure in Germany because we hadn't won any cross-country medals until now," said Angerer. "It was important for our team to get this medal."
The Norwegians didn't have it all their own way in the early part of the race, as Sweden's Daniel Rickardsson and Russia's Maxim Vylegzhanin pulled 22.7 seconds clear of Martin Johnsrud Sundby in the first stage.
But the masses of fans flanking the track screamed their approval as Eldar Roenning bridged the gap halfway through the second classical-style stage. Roenning then joined Johan Olsson on a breakaway to leave Stanislav Volzhentsev 20 seconds behind at the switchover to the freestyle portion.
Sweden and Norway looked destined for a two-team battle for gold, but Anders Soedergren and Tord Asle Gjerdalen were quickly caught in the third stage by Russia, Finland, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Canada's team of Stefan Kuhn (Canmore, Alta.), Len Valjas (Toronto), Ivan Babikov (Canmore, Alta.) and George Grey of Rossland, B.C., finished 12th with a time of 1:45:12.1, five minutes and 1.9 seconds behind the Norweigans.
"I understood early that Gjerdalen would not go a millimetre in front and I would have to do the job myself," said Soedergren.
Russia fell back in the last leg as five teams challenged for the win. But then came that hill, and Northug ensured the race was over as a contest.
Austria wins large hill event
Austria beat Germany in a photo finish to win the team combined large hill event at the Nordic world skiing championships on Friday.
Mario Stecher edged Tino Edelmann at the line for the second time this week to give the Austrians another Nordic combined gold at the worlds.
The Austrian team, which also featured Bernhard Gruber, David Kreiner and Felix Gottwald, finished the 4x5-kilometre relay in 47 minutes 12.3 seconds.
Germany was 0.1 seconds behind, and Norway in third place 40.6 seconds back.
France had a 32-second head start after the ski jump but ended the day 51.9 seconds back in fourth.