• Kyodo

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Simen Hegstad Krueger got a surprise gold medal on Sunday and Norway claimed the first-ever Olympic skiathlon podium sweep after dominating the men’s cross-country event at the Pyeongchang Games.

Olympic debutant Krueger took the lead around the 24-km mark of the 30-km race that mixes the freestyle and classic skiing techniques and held on to claim a shock win that had him looking over his shoulders in astonishment at the finish line.

“When I got those meters I had to go for it,” Krueger said. “I did not believe it when I turned and there was no one there, (I thought), ‘What is happening?’ and ‘Do not look back.’ I just had to keep pushing forward until the final.”

His 1 hour, 16 minute, 20.0 second time saw him finish 8.0 seconds ahead of compatriot Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who improved from his bronze medal won at the Sochi Games, and 9.9 seconds ahead of bronze medalist Hans Christer Holund.

“I cannot believe we pulled this off today,” Sundby said. “I am proud of my team and proud of myself, but today it was a team effort. We delivered our tactics 100 percent today.

“The three of us guys from Oslo, the biggest town in Norway, coming here and take a triple in the Olympics. That is amazing.”

Iivo Niskanen dominated the first half of the race but quickly fell into the clutches of the Norwegians in the battle for gold at Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre. The Finn eventually slid well back, finishing in 19th place.

Krueger started the race at the back of the 68-man field after falling in the first 100 meters and breaking a pole, but steadily worked his way up to 14th by the time he switched skis at the pit stop. He jumped around among the leaders for the next 9 km but ultimately shot ahead, gaining as much as a 22-second lead at one point.

“I was completely last in the group so I had to start the race again and switch focus to catch up with the guys,” Krueger said. “When I did it I was (saying to myself), ‘OK, take one lap, two laps, three laps and just get into it again, and try to do it on the final lap.’ “

Keishin Yoshida, Japan’s sole competitor, crossed the line at 1:18:23.0 to finish 25th in his second Olympic appearance. Yoshida was 16th in the men’s 4×10-km relay at the Sochi Games.

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