It’s Dario Cologna’s week. The Swiss skier picked up his second gold medal on another warm, slushy day in which the best-finishing Norwegian, Chris Andre Jespersen, wore tight shorts.
Sport: Cross-country skiing
Event: Men’s 15k classical
Medalists: Dario Cologna (Switzerland), Johan Olsson (Sweden), Daniel Richardsson (Sweden)
SportsMyriad projections: Alexey Poltoranin (Kazakhstan), Maxim Vylegzhanin (Russia), Petter Northug (Norway)
How U.S. fared: Not a good event for the Americans. Noah Hoffman led the way in 31st, 2:33 back. Then Erik Bjornsen (38th, 3:15), Brian Gregg (47th, 4:12) and Kris Freeman (52nd, 4:25).
What happened: We all had Finland’s Iivo Niskanen in our projections, right? You know he’s important when his FIS results page doesn’t have his picture. And how about that … one World Cup top-10?
He did win the U23 World Championships in this event last month. So when he started 13th and immediately set jaw-dropping split times, he got some attention. Then when most of the favorites couldn’t match those split times, the cameras made sure to follow him around the course, all the way to his theatrical fall after finishing.
But sometimes, a good skier has an even better week. So it was no surprise when Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, the skiathlon winner earlier this week, started beating Niskanen’s split times. So did Sweden’s Johan Olsson, the World Championship runner-up.
The other contenders weren’t in the picture. Petter Northug, clearly not at his best this week, didn’t even start. Alexey Poltoranin, the pick of NBC’s Chad Salmela as well as SportsMyriad, came across the splits in the top 10 but no higher. Martin Johnsrud Sundby was fifth at the first checkpoint but faded.
Russia, desperate for a medal after some close calls, threw some surprising names into the mix. Maxim Vylegzhanin, a very close fourth in the skiathlon, wasn’t racing. Alexander Bessmertnykh, with one World Cup podium in the past four years, finished in a very tentative second place but was knocked off the podium within seconds.
Cologna started one place behind Olsson, and they came into the finish together. And they took the top two places — Cologna at 38:29.7, Olsson 28.5 seconds back. Niskanen was 39.0 seconds behind them.
The last serious threat to the podium was Sweden’s Daniel Richardsson, who was 11th at the 8k mark but saved his best for last. He could see the time he needed as he struggled to find some energy down the stretch. He pushed his poles as hard as he could, lunged and … beat Niskanen by 0.2 seconds.