By the tip of a teammate's ski, Bjorn Dahlie became the winningest athlete in Winter Olympic history.
In the closest finish ever in the 40-kilometer cross-country race, Norway's Thomas Alsgaard crossed the finish line two-tenths of a second ahead of his nearest rival Wednesday, lifting Norway to victory and giving teammate Dahlie his seventh Olympic gold and 11th medal overall.Dahlie, who raced the third leg for Norway, moved past two other athletes in total gold medals, and his total broke the winter record he shared with Raisa Smetanina, a cross-country skier from the former Soviet Union.
To understand the scale of his achievement, consider that Dahlie has more gold medals than America's Bonnie Blair has total medals (six) and that his 11 career medals are one more than the entire U.S. team has accumulated so far in this year's games.
"I was not thinking about it so much, but it means something to me," Dahlie said of the record. "I will appreciate it in a few years when I look back on a fantastic career. But I was not concentrating on it here."
"The reason I have been able to win for so many years is that I do think all the time about being the best, I don't feel like the biggest," Dahlie said.
Although he is the biggest star on the team, Dahlie had no qualms about not being the anchor man in the relay.
"This is our best team," he said.
Alsgaard's victory in the final leg of the 40k came over Italy's Silvio Fauner, who at Lillehammer in 1994 beat Dahlie in the final sprint to give Italy a stunning victory over the home team.
Yet the race began badly for the Norwegians. Their first man, Sture Sivertsen, faded in the last two kilometers and tagged Erling Jevne only in 10th place.
But Jevne, the 30K silver medalist, powered through and closed in on Fulvio Valbusa, who had taken over from Marco Albarello, putting Norway within striking distance.
In a tactical race, Dahlie stayed behind Italy's Fabio Maj, not wanting to set the pace. Just before the exchange, the two slowed down to a walking pace, and Alsgaard and Fauner took off virtually together.
They remained together stride by stride, playing mind games and trying to force the other into going in front. With about three kilometers to go, Fauner made a bid to pull away but Alsgaard stayed close behind.
"He wouldn't give up," Fauner said.
At the finish line, Alsgaard surged forward to give Norway the gold in one hour, 40 minutes 55.7 seconds.
In other Olympic action:
- WOMEN'S HOCKEY: A day after beating Canada 3-1 to win the women's hockey gold, members of the U.S. team savored both the win and the attention for a sport making its Olympic debut. They showed up with gold medals around their necks at a Nagano hotel reception, then appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" to recite the 10 best things about winning a gold medal.
- SKIING: Another day, another postponed ski race. Even moving to a different mountain didn't help Alpine skiers, who seem to bring bad weather with them at these games.
- BIATHLON: Ole Einar Bjorndalen could have had reason to complain when they stopped a biathlon he was leading Tuesday because of heavy snow and fog. Instead, he simply came back to win the restarted 10-kilometer race.