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Norway wins cross-country relay at World Champs

2/21/2005

OBERSTDORF, Germany -- Marit Bjorgen's powerful final charge
in heavy snowfall lifted Norway to gold in the women's cross
country team relay at the Nordic Skiing World Championships on
Monday.

The World Cup leader shook off two-time Olympic champion Julija
Tchepalova of Russia on the last climb in a battle of the sport's
top two sprinters as Norway won the 20-kilometer race in 57
minutes, 15.7 seconds.

Russia took silver, 7.6 seconds back, while Italy grabbed an
unexpected bronze, finishing 49.7 behind in tough conditions on the
hilly Oberstdorf course.

"The plan was I would attack her on the final hill -- when I did
that, Tchepalova had no answer," Bjorgen said.

Bjorgen, who has dominated the past two World Cup seasons,
started right behind Tchepalova on the final leg.

The two rivals matched strides for 4.3 kilometers until Bjorgen
-- known for her power -- sprinted up the final hill. A comfortable
gap opened within seconds, and Bjorgen threw her arms into the air
in jubilation just before the finish line.

Bjorgen won her first gold after settling for a silver and
bronze. She also topped Tchepalova, who beat her in the 15K pursuit
two days ago.

Tchepalova added her second silver to her gold at the
championships. Her collection of Olympic medals includes a silver
and bronze, along with the two golds.

"I knew she wanted revenge. That was not a good position for
me. I just knew this day was no good and we wouldn't win gold,"
Tchepalova said. "Most of all, I would like to go on holiday."

Germany, the defending world and Olympic champion, faded to
fourth despite a big home crowd. Evi Sachenbacher lost almost half
a minute on the final kilometer on the third leg, ending her team's
medal hopes.