KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — After a fiasco in the women's cross-country relay, Norway gets a chance to make amends right away in the men's event on Sunday.
For once, though, the Norwegians aren't considered the favorite.
Defending champion Sweden has had three different skiers on the podium in the two long-distance events so far at the Sochi Olympics, and all three were part of the team that won the 4x10-kilometer relay in Vancouver four years ago.
Of the Norwegians, meanwhile, only Martin Johnsrud Sundby has a long-distance medal so far, a bronze in the 30-kilometer skiathlon. Add the fact that anchor Petter Northug has been struggling, and Norway finds itself the underdog to its Scandinavian rival. Especially given the team's problems with finding the right wax setup in the women's relay on Saturday, where the heavily favored Norwegians only finished fifth — behind winner Sweden.
"We're far from being the favorites," Sundby said.
Norway, though, has won the relay at the last two world championships, with Northug winning a sprint for the gold medal both times against two different Swedish anchors. And the Swedes know that if they can't shake Northug off, he's still a favorite against skiathlon silver medalist Marcus Hellner in a sprint.
"I think we have a good chance for a medal. But the Norwegian team has won every relay in the last couple of years," said Sweden's Daniel Richardsson, who took bronze in the 15K classical. "So I think they're going to be hard to beat. But our team is really good today, and I think we have a good chance."
Dario Cologna, who won both the skiathlon and 15K race, isn't competing for Switzerland, which has no other top skiers and wouldn't be a medal candidate even with him on the team. Russia, however, has a strong team with Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin on the last two legs. That gives the host nation an outside chance for its first cross-country gold in Sochi as well.
Germany has a team of veterans that could still keep up over 10K and might have a shot at equaling the women's team with a surprise bronze medal.
Sweden is also hoping to copy its women's team, and come away with the gold.
"We're looking forward to it, but we know we are really going to have to fight for the medals," said Johan Olsson, the silver medalist in the 15K. "A relay is a completely different competition."