FALUN, Sweden – Petter Northug showed again that he’s almost unbeatable in a sprint finish, leading Norway to the men’s cross-country relay gold Friday for the fifth consecutive time at the world championships.
Northug entered the stadium just behind Calle Halfvarsson but used his trademark burst of speed to go in front on a small uphill ramp just before the final straightaway. Northug then stayed a couple of meters in front of the Swede in the sprint to the finish, and put a finger to his lips in a “hush” sign after crossing the line.
More than 40,000 cheering fans were along the course and in the main stadium for what is always a heated affair between skiing rivals Norway and Sweden.
Sweden was 0.6 seconds back to take silver for the third consecutive time at the worlds, while France took bronze, 8.9 seconds behind.
It was Northug’s 12th career world title, and he anchored Norway to the 4x10-kilometer relay gold in the four previous worlds as well. This time he competed with three newcomers in Niklas Dyrhaug, Didrik Toenseth and Anders Gloeersen, but the result was the same as his powerful sprinting ability once again made the difference.
“I’m really impressed with my teammates,” said Northug, who also won the individual and team sprint events at these worlds. “It’s a lot of pressure on the Norwegian team before a relay. ... We know that only gold makes the Norwegian people satisfied.”
Norway has won the last eight world championship relays overall, a streak dating back to 2001. Sweden won the last two Olympic relays in 2010 and 2014, both times after building a big lead before the anchor leg to neutralize Northug, who is renowned for having the best finish in the world.
“Of course we know that Norway is the team to beat,” said Sweden’s Johan Olsson, who won the 15K freestyle race Wednesday. “With Petter on the last leg, he’s almost Mr. Hundred Percent in the finish.”
So Olsson tried to decide matters early again for Sweden, pulling in front on the second leg to build a 14-second gap on Toenseth at the midway point of the race.
But Gloeersen quickly caught up with Marcus Hellner and even gave Northug a small lead going out on the final leg.
The Norwegian then let Halfvarsson and French skier Adrien Backscheider stay in front until the very end, biding his time before making his decisive move.
“We had a better chance on the last leg this time than in Sochi,” Northug said. “It’s good to be back on top again.”