The now-familiar story: Great success for Sweden, horrible disappointment for Norway’s superstars. Russia got a crowd-pleasing silver, and France got a bronze no one expected.
Sport: Cross-country skiing
Event: Men’s 4x10k relay (two classical legs, two freestyle)
Medalists: Sweden, Russia, France
SportsMyriad projections: Norway, Sweden, Russia
How U.S. fared: Andy Newell was having a solid first leg, but something happened off-camera that dropped him all the way to 15th. He finished in some distress, tapping to Erik Bjornsen down 1:17.8. Bjornsen passed Poland and Belarus to move up to 13th, 2:15.0 off the lead.
In freestyle, Noah Hoffman hauled the USA into the top 10, passing Kazakhstan, Estonia and Canada. But they were a minute behind ninth-place Switzerland. Estonia came back to take 10th, and Simi Hamilton crossed the line 11th, 4:33.1 behind.
What happened: A couple of mishaps made the first leg interesting. Sweden’s Lars Nelson’s binding appeared to pop off his ski. Rather than continue on one ski a la John Cusack in Better Off Dead, he calmly got a replacement and got right back in the pack.
The second incident wreaked a little more havoc, with Germany’s Jens Filbrich getting tangled with Estonia’s Karel Tammjarv. Filbrich fell on a downhill section and had to see the pack race away as he scrambled to his feet.
Nelson and Finland’s Sami Jauhojaervi ripped away from the pack and bumped each other a bit in the last turn of the leg. Nelson gave Sweden an 0.3-second lead. France was within 10 seconds. Norway and Russia were not, nearly 30 seconds back.
The second leg saw a couple of packs settle into place. The leaders: Sweden, Finland, France. The chase pack: Russia, Czech Republic, Norway, Italy, Switzerland. Then Germany was struggling to catch that pack.
But 36-year-old Czech skier Lukas Bauer changed all that. The three-time Olympian broke away from the chase back and overhauled France for third at the halfway point of the race. Russia had no such response, and Norway slid backward — more than a minute down.
The freestyle skiers shook things up. At the front, Sweden’s Johann Olsson took off. Finland faded, with France and the Czech Republic overtaking through two of the 3.3k laps and several more passing on the next. Russia’s Alexander Legkov pounced as the packs split apart, scooting up to second. Martin Johnsrud Sundby put Norway back in striking range but fell back. At the third exchange: Sweden in first, Russia 14.3 seconds back, France 18.6, Italy 41.7, Czech Republic 42.1, Norway 59.2, Finland 1:09.3.
Sweden had Marcus Hellner, already a silver medalist here, in the anchor leg. Russia had Maxim Vylegzhanin, fourth in the Olympic skiathlon and a four-time World Championship medalist. France had the literally unknown — NBC’s encyclopedic Chad Salmela confessed he knew nothing about him — Ivan Perrillat Boiteux. Norway had 2010 Olympic star and nine-time world champion Petter Northug, but he had been struggling so far in these Games and had a look of disbelief as Sundby tapped him for the exchange.
To Salmela’s shock, Boiteux passed Vylegzhanin at the end of the second lap, right in front of Vylegzhanin’s home crowd. Northug creeped up into fifth but still had work to do.
Hellner took care of business easily, and a coach handed him a small Swedish flag for the run into the stadium. Vylegzhanin finally flew away from his unknown French racing companion as they headed into the stadium to give Russia second place, and Boiteux collapsed across the line in third as his French teammates mobbed him. Then came the disconsolate figure of Petter Northug, continuing Norway’s dreadful performance on cross-country skis.