Norway’s Petter Northug did it again on Sunday, skiing his way to another gold medal in the tough 50-kilometer race in front of more than 100,000 cheering fans in Oslo. Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin was less than two seconds behind Northug in the last event of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (Ski-VM) at Holmenkollen.
And just behind Vylegzhanin, off to the far left in the photo at right, was another Norwegian, Tord Asle Gjerdalen. He’d also been part of the Norwegian men’s relay team that won the gold medal on Friday and triumphed again with a spot on the podium just before the championships’ closing ceremonies.
Northug covered the 50-kilometer (30-mile) course in just two hours, eight minutes and nine seconds. He and other skiers said they were mightily encouraged along the way by tens of thousands of enthusiastic spectators who lined the ski trails between Holmenkollen and the timber lodge called Frognerseteren, where the course turned around. The screaming fans were in addition to the roughly 40,000 inside the stadium nestled below the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump.
“It was completely wild on the way up to Frognerseteren,” Northug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), referring to the cheers, the flags and all the cowbells being shaken. “Conditions were great, and there were so many people.”
It was indeed a postcard-perfect day in Oslo after many days of fog and poor visibility. The sun was shining and temperatures rose but the trails were in good shape after sub-freezing temperatures during the night and careful grooming before the race.
Northug had stayed behind the front of the pack in the beginning of the race, moving up gradually and then holding the second position for the last several kilometers. Arch-rival Marcus Hellner of Sweden, who Northug beat and controversially teased during the relay on Friday, held the lead for quite a while, but later fell back and finished 15th.
There was a bit of unexpected drama just before the skiers out front headed into the stadium to race for the finish line when two skiers fell and one, Sergei Dolidovitsh of Belarus, broke his ski pole right before Northug. The accidents didn’t stop Northug or Gjerdalen, but Northug had to power forward to overtake his Russian rival Vylegzhanin who was ahead at the stadium entrance. It wasn’t until the final swing that Northug pulled ahead and could cross the goal first, just 1.7 seconds ahead.
It was a fitting end to Norway’s gold rush at the world championships. Northug, age 25, was crowned the undisputed king of the world championships, winning three gold medals and two in silver. Marit Bjørgen of Norway could claim four gold medals, though, in the women’s events.
All told, Norwegian skiers and ski jumpers wound up with 20 medals, double the number of their closest rival, Austria. Norway could claim eight gold medals, six silver and six bronze. Austria ended with 10, seven in gold, with Sweden third at five total, with two in gold.