FALUN, Sweden – Petter Northug wrapped up his most successful championships with the kind of performance that has made him the world’s top cross-country skier.
The Norwegian used his trademark sprinting ability to win a four-way race to the finish in the men’s 50-kilometer classical-style race Sunday for his fourth gold medal of the Nordic skiing world championships.
Even by Northug’s standards, this finish was something special.
He entered the final straight a few meters behind Czech veteran Lukas Bauer and Maxim Vylegzhanin of Russia but then switched into a gear that no one could match, passing between both rivals with powerful double-poling to win the classical-style race in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 2.1 seconds. The 37-year-old Bauer surprisingly took silver while defending champion Johan Olsson of Sweden passed a tiring Vylegzhanin in the final meters to take bronze.
“It felt fantastic to be the first across the finish,” Northug said. “The 50K is the race I value highest, so it’s great to succeed.”
Bauer was 1.7 seconds behind Northug, with Olsson another 0.3 seconds back.
It is Northug’s 13th career world championship gold, having previously won the individual and team sprint in Falun along with the 4x10K relay with Norway. He also won the 50K classical race at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with a similar sprint finish.
He won three golds at both the 2009 and 2011 worlds, but surpassed that mark this time. And that’s after what has been a tough year for one of Norway’s most high-profile athletes and celebrities. He failed to win a medal at the Sochi Olympics last year, and was then found guilty of drunk driving after crashing his car in May 2014, an incident that was front-page news back home.
“This has been an important championship for me,” Northug said. “There are a lot of impressions and thoughts swirling around in my head. I’m a bit lost for words.”
Sunday’s race, the last event of these world championships, was held in heavy snowfall on an already soft course, making any breakaway attempts nearly impossible. Those who tried to pull away were quickly reeled in, with the fresh snow in the tracks making it difficult to ski up front.
With about 15 skiers staying together until the final kilometer, Northug stayed near the back of the leading pack for most of the race until he gradually moved forward to position himself for the sprint. He passed Olsson on the last uphill ramp before the final straight and then went right between Bauer and Vylegzhanin as neither rival could match his speed.
“Petter has a completely different gear than we have,” Olsson said.
Bauer, a former overall World Cup winner, has said this was last his last worlds, and he wrapped it up with his first championship medal since Vancouver.
“It’s a long time ago I was there (on the podium),” Bauer said. “It’s nice to return.”
Northug’s win wraps up a remarkable championship for Norway, which won nine of the 12 cross-country skiing races for men and women. Vylegzhanin won the 30K skiathlon race and Olsson took gold in the 15K freestyle event.