Norway restores order by winning women's cross-country relay
FALUN, Sweden (AP) Marit Bjoergen collected one of the few records she didn't already have as Norway restored some order to women's cross-country skiing by easily winning the 4x5-kilometer relay at the world championships on Thursday.
It was Bjoergen's 14th world title to go with four silvers and three bronze medals, putting her ahead of Russian great Yelena Valbe, who won 14 golds and three silvers. Bjoergen is already the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history with six golds and 10 medals overall, and has a record 72 individual World Cup victories.
Her teammates did most of the work this time, as Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen decided the race on the third leg, taking advantage of a fall by Swedish rival Maria Rydqvist to build a gap of 18 seconds before handing over to Bjoergen.
That was more than enough for the anchor racer, who grew the advantage even more and had time to slow down to grab a Norwegian flag to wave on the final straight.
Sweden was 29.2 seconds back in second after Stina Nilsson beat Krista Parmakoski in a sprint. Finland was another 1.6 seconds back in third. The United States finished fourth despite Sadie Bjornsen also falling on the first leg, but was more than a minute away from the bronze.
Heidi Weng and Therese Johaug skied the first two legs as Norway won its third straight world championship gold in the women's relay. But this victory was extra sweet after a rare mishap at the Sochi Olympics last year.
The Norwegian women were massive favorites for the relay in Sochi, but the team's wax technicians chose the wrong setup for the snow conditions, and Norway finished fifth. In Tuesday's 10K freestyle race, the Norwegians had similar problems and didn't have a skier among the top 20.
''We've wanted revenge ever since Sochi, and especially after Tuesday's race,'' Bjoergen said. ''To come back again, and give the people back home and the (fans) here a gold again, it's incredible.''
In the large hill ski jump, Severin Freund was equally dominant to win his second gold of the championships.
Freund had a comfortable lead after his first jump, then soared 135.5 meters in the second round with the longest effort of the day to win with 268.7 points. His second jump was a hill record, and a full 5.5 meters longer than the second-best effort in that round. Two of the five judges also gave him a perfect 20 style points.
''It was just the perfect jump at the right time,'' Freund said.
Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria was a massive 22.3 points behind for silver, while normal hill gold medalist Rune Velta of Norway took bronze.
Freund led Germany to the mixed team title on Sunday, and took silver in the normal hill, just 0.4 points behind Velta.
In the Nordic combined large hill event, Bernhard Gruber of Austria pulled away from Francois Braud of France on the final lap to win his first individual world championship.
Gruber held a slim lead after the ski jump, and had the strongest finish in the 10K cross-country race, attacking on the last uphill climb to leave Braud behind. Gruber beat Braud by 11.9 seconds.
''Francois was pushing really hard ... and I had to fight really hard to stay behind him,'' Gruber said. ''In the last uphill ... I tried to push really hard, and in the end I made it.''
Normal hill champion Johannes Rydzek then beat Norway's Magnus Moan in a tight sprint for the bronze medal.