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posted: 2/16/2010 12:01 AM

Switzerland's Cologna wins men's 15K freestyle x-country race

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WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Switzerland's Dario Cologna won the men's 15-kilometer freestyle cross-country race at the Vancouver Games on Monday in his Olympic debut.

Cologna collapsed across the finish line after completing the course in 33 minutes, 36.3 seconds, then stayed down for several seconds while catching his breath.

Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer won the silver, finishing 24.6 seconds behind Cologna. Czech skier Lukas Bauer was a further 11 seconds behind to collect a bronze medal to go with the silver he won in the 15-kilometer classical style race at the 2006 Turin Games.

The results were provisional as some lower-ranked skiers had yet to finish.

Although the race was wide open, many expected Bauer to battle it out with World Cup leader Petter Northug, the best skier to come out of Norway since the great Bjoern Daehlie.

But the interval start meant Northug, who is expected to dominate the Vancouver Olympics, couldn't use the ferocious sprinting ability that lets him dominate mass-start events.

Because the 24-year-old Norwegian is likely to compete in all six events in Vancouver -- including the sprints -- he had the luxury of choosing to slow down Monday and save his energy for future races once he realized a podium spot was out of reach.

After trailing by more than eight seconds at the first intermediate mark, Northug seemed to do just that, finishing more than 2 minutes behind the winner.

With Tord Asle Gjerdalen finishing as the best Norwegian in 27th place, the country's worst result in the discipline in an Olympic race. The previous low was when Frode Estil was 16th as the top Norwegian in the 15-kilometer classical in Turin.

Norway failed to win a cross-country gold medal in those Olympics, and Northug is facing enormous pressure to end that drought in Vancouver.

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