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Norway takes Nordic team gold; Japan fifth

AP, Kyodo

After failing to win a medal at the Vancouver Olympics, the country that spawned Nordic combined more than 125 years ago made quite a comeback at the Sochi Games.

Norway won its second gold medal in three days after taking Thursday’s large hill team event. That gave the Scandinavian country its fourth medal of the games in three events.

Norwegians Joergen Graabak and Magnus Moan finished one-two in the large hill Tuesday while teammate Magnus Krog took the bronze in the normal hill.

“Tuesday was a great day for me, but this is better — standing on top with these friends and teammates,” Graabak said inside the stadium at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center after the venue’s final event of these games.

“We had a bit of a rough patch in Vancouver . . . to be able to take the gold and also three individual medals at these championships is unreal.”

On Thursday, cross-country ski specialist Moan made up a 25-second deficit on the first leg and Norway outdueled Germany and defending champion Austria in the relay in which each team member skied 5 km.

Final-leg skier Graabak outsprinted German rival Fabian Riessle in the last 100 meters to give Norway the victory by three-tenths of a second. Two-time defending champion Austria took the bronze, 3.4 seconds behind.

Japan could only manage a fifth-place finish.

Anchored by normal hill silver medalist Akito Watabe, Japan started the 4×5-km cross-country relay 1 minute, 5 seconds behind Germany, which won the jumping competition on the K-125 large hill. Japan’s first racer, Hideaki Nagai, overtook the Czech Republic to move into fifth, but his teammates were unable to pass the fourth-place French, who started 30 seconds earlier.

“I intended to do all I could so the team could compete, but I wasn’t able to manage as good a jump as I should,” said Watabe of a jump that netted 120.9 points — easily Japan’s best. “This is frustrating.”

Yusuke Minato, who covered his 5 km in 11:37.4, the second fastest on the Japan team behind Watabe’s 11:33.4 anchor leg, had not participated in either of the individual events. His turn came when Taihei Kato was injured in the jump portion of Tuesday’s individual large hill event.

“This is frustrating but I gave my all,” Minato said.

Watabe’s younger brother, Yoshito, was the third member of the team.

Norway, where soldiers first competed informally in ski jumping and cross-country skiing in the late 1800s, finished the relay in 47 minutes, 13.5 seconds.

“I’ve had a lot of good sprints this year, and I knew that if I was the first one into the stadium, I was pretty confident that I would be the first one over the finish line,” Graabak said.

Germany took an early lead when all four of its competitors, including normal hill gold medalist Eric Frenzel, jumped 125 meters or better — the only team to do so.

Frenzel, who nearly missed the large hill final because of a virus and finished 10th, was the lead skier for Germany with a seven-second advantage over Lukas Klapfer of Austria. Norway started 25 seconds behind and France 35 seconds.

“I felt really much better than the last competition,” said Frenzel, the World Cup leader. “My body felt today really good. For me it was a perfect Olympic Games: two medals — one gold, one silver.”

Klapfer, Frenzel and Moan finished the first leg within a second of each other, and that’s the way it stayed for the remainder of the race as France sat a distance fourth, some 30 seconds behind, with Japan another second back.

“My goal was to catch the 25-second gap,” Moan said. “I was really hoping to show the guys I can do well in cross-country.”

Austria was trying to become the first country to win three consecutive gold medals in the team event.

“There were just a few seconds to gold medal, and we made it a good competition,” said Mario Stecher, who skied the final leg for Austria.

The United States finished in sixth place, moving up two placings from its start after the ski jumping.

The United States, which won a silver medal in this event at Vancouver in 2010, started 1:52 behind Germany in the relay after its ski jumping.