WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Petter Northug finally got to show off his closing ability, and it was enough to give Norway the gold in the men's cross-country team sprint Monday at the Vancouver Olympics.
Northug blew past Germany's Axel Teichmann seemingly without effort shortly before the finish, parading down the final straight for his first Olympic gold medal. Northug partnered with Oeystein Pettersen to finish in 19 minutes, 1 second.
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The German duo of Teichmann and Tim Tscharnke won silver, with the Russian team of Nikolay Morilov and Alexey Petukhov taking the bronze.
The freestyle event features a two-man relay, where each skier takes turns going three laps around a 1.6-kilometer course.
Northug had to do the heavy lifting for Norway throughout the race as Pettersen struggled to keep up with his rivals. Pettersen only made the team after sprint specialist Ola Vigen Hattestad pulled out with an illness, and couldn't match Tscharnke's pace on the fifth lap.
The German managed to pull away from the pack to give Teichmann a 2-second lead at the final exchange, leaving Northug and Petukhov to give chase.
They caught up on the last downhill section leading into the stadium, and the result was never in doubt after that as Northug turned on his vaunted sprint to leave his rivals behind.
After only getting a bronze in his first three Olympic events, Northug collapsed on his back in the finish area as Pettersen jumped on top of him to celebrate the gold.
Canada was a surprising fourth-place finisher, with Kazakhstan in fifth. The United States made the final, but finished ninth.
Defending champion Sweden missed the final after Teodor Peterson crashed and broke his pole during his first lap in the semifinals. While 30K pursuit gold medalist Marcus Hellner managed to catch up with the leaders, Peterson seemed banged up and lost ground on the final lap to finish eighth.
Peterson replaced Sweden's top sprinter Emil Joensson, who pulled out with an ear infection.
Belarus was heading for a place in the final before an embarrassing blunder by Leanid Karneyenka, who led the first semifinal heat but took a wrong turn after entering the ski stadium for the final time. After seeing all his competitors whizz by him on an outside track, Karneyenka realized his mistake and pulled up, bending over to hang his head in disappointment.
The spring-like weather conditions at Whistler Olympic Park continued Monday with temperatures around 9 degrees C (50 degrees F), leading to the unusual sight of some European fans lining the course in short-sleeved shirts -- or with no shirt at all.
French anchor Cyril Miranda followed suit, skiing the final in a short-sleeved top, but fell out contention after getting tangled up ahead of the fourth exchange.