Rotchev stuns Hetland for men's gold medal

Updated: February 22, 2005, 12:58 PM ET
Associated Press

OBERSTDORF, Germany -- Russia's Vassili Rotchev stunned Norwegian Tor Arne Hetland at the Nordic Skiing World Championships on Tuesday, holding off the Olympic champion on the final hill to win the cross-country sprint gold.

The women's sprint produced an even bigger surprise when Sweden's Emelie Oehrstig won, reaching the podium for the first time in her career.

Rotchev, rated one of Russia's biggest hopes for the future, finished the 1.2-kilometer men's race in 2 minutes, 32.1 seconds, edging Hetland by 0.02 seconds. Sweden's Thobias Fredriksson, the defending champion, was third in 2:39.

Hetland, considered the world's best, passed Rotchev on the final hill, but could not open up a lead and was beaten at the finish line.

"I'm very happy because the Russians haven't been on the podium since Salt Lake City," Rotchev said.

Oehrstig, whose previous best World Cup performance was finishing fourth in December, covered the 0.9-kilometer course in 2:15.5, with countrywoman Lina Andersson second in 2:16.8. Sara Renner took bronze for her first medal at a major competition.

"Everything was as I hoped for in my dreams," Oehrstig said. "The sprint was my goal -- I thought I had a chance at the medal."

Renner's medal was the first ever for Canada at the Nordic worlds.

"It's great for me personally," Renner said. "We've been a struggling nation -- the success is important for us to get young people into the sports and money into the program."

Favorite Marit Bjorgen of Norway didn't qualify for the final. A dominant skier on the World Cup circuit, she was 17th _ with 16 reaching the final heats -- after losing just one sprint race in the last 17 months before the worlds.

She blamed her unexpected loss, in part, on choosing the wrong skis.

"I'm very, very disappointed -- I was sure I would win gold," Bjorgen said. "Now I have to put this behind me as quickly as possible and concentrate on my next race."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press