KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – Sweden successfully defended its Olympic gold in the men’s 4×10-km cross-country relay on Sunday to become the first country in 42 years to win both the men’s and women’s team events in the same Winter Games.
A day after its women’s team earned a narrow come-from-behind victory, Sweden’s anchor Marcus Hellner skied alone for the entire final leg and was so far ahead he could leisurely ski down the final straight waving a Swedish flag.
Russia took silver in front of President Vladimir Putin. France finished third.
Hellner started the fourth leg with a 14-second lead on Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin, and quickly extended the gap. Sweden won by 27.3 seconds.
It was another disappointing day for Norway, which had fallen a minute behind by the second exchange and ended up fourth, a day after its heavily-favored women surprisingly failed to get a medal.
Sweden had a bad start as Lars Nelson fell on the first leg when he got tangled up with another skier. He had to spend a few seconds putting one ski back on but quickly caught up to the main pack, and then set the pace to shake off everyone but Finland at the first exchange.
Finland’s Iivo Niskanen was still with Sweden’s Daniel Richardsson at the second exchange, but Johan Olsson then pulled away from Lari Lehtonen to give Sweden a comfortable lead heading into the final exchange.
Hellner did the rest, keeping Vylegzhanin from getting closer and giving himself ample time to start the celebrations early.
It was a vastly different finish to Saturday’s women’s relay, when Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla made up a 25-second deficit on the final leg before winning a three-way sprint for the gold.
It was the first time since the Soviet Union’s double in 1972 that the same country won both the men’s and women’s Olympic cross-country relays.
Hellner also skied the anchor leg for Sweden in Vancouver four years ago, with Richardsson and Olsson on that team as well. For Nelson, it was his first Olympic medal.
Vylegzhanin quickly lost ground to Hellner on the fourth leg and was caught by Ivan Perrillat Boiteux, but managed to pull away from the Frenchman on the final sprint for silver.
Hellner took silver in the opening skiahtlon race in Sochi, while Olsson and Richardsson were second and third in the 15K classical race to give Sweden the status as favorite in the relay. Dario Cologna won both those races but didn’t compete for Switzerland in the relay. The Swiss finished eighth, nearly 2 minutes behind.
Norway again struggled in the warm conditions, and seemingly failed to sort out the waxing problems that plagued the women’s team on Saturday.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby managed to pull within about 30 seconds of Olsson halfway through the third leg but the Norwegian ran out of steam, and was more than a minute behind when he handed over to Petter Northug.
The Norwegian anchor couldn’t close the gap at all but at least overtook Italy’s David Hofer to finish fourth.
The United States lost about a minute per leg to finish 11th.