KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — On a day of slips, falls and crashes, Ola Vigen Hattestad took the safest route to an Olympic gold — staying in front from beginning to end.
The Norwegian won the men's cross-country freestyle sprint Tuesday after dominating every stage from qualifying to an eventful final, where three of his rivals were involved in one big crash. Hattestad avoided the mayhem by staying well in front, and then held off Teodor Peterson of Sweden for the gold medal.
"The final was maybe a little crazy," Hattestad said.
It certainly was for Emil Joensson of Sweden, who had all but given up earlier in the race after running out of energy but ended up with the bronze after Sergey Ustiugov, Marcus Hellner and Anders Gloeersen crashed.
Joensson had dropped far back and was cruising home when Gloeersen, who was in third, fell in the treacherous downhill curve and hit the protective barrier. That ended up dragging down Ustiugov and Hellner as well, and suddenly Joensson had passed them all and had a clear path to the bronze.
After crossing the line, an exhausted Joensson needed help from a Swedish team official to get up off the snow and leave the finish area.
It was a medal performance that brought back memories of Stephen Bradbury's short track speedskating gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games after his rivals all fell in front of him.
"I feel like him today," Joensson said of Bradbury. "Right now I don't know if I should be happy or feel bad."
Hattestad said he didn't realize what had happened behind him until one of the Norwegian coaches yelled that he was alone with Peterson when they were on the final uphill section.
"I didn't know those guys had fallen," he said. "That was the first time I realized we were away. I was just focused on my own race."
Peterson couldn't seriously threaten Hattestad in the two-way race to the finish line, and seemed pleased with the silver.