<
>

Freestyle sprint win gives Kuitunen overall title

3/10/2007

LAHTI, Finland -- Virpi Kuitunen of Finland won the
freestyle cross-country sprint Saturday to clinch the women's World
Cup overall title at the Lahti Ski Games.

With five events remaining, Kuitunen has 1,297 points. Norway's
Marit Bjorgen, the defending overall champion, is second with 788.
Bjorgen fell in her semifinal Saturday and finished eighth.

"It felt fantastic to thank this fabulous crowd with the
title," Kuitunen said. "There was no better place where to win
it. Now and then I yawned, feeling the aftermath of Sapporo, but
the crowd surely woke my up when I was going to the starts."

The 30-year-old Kuitunen has won seven of her 13 races during
the season, and has two runner-up finishes.

In the sprint, Kuitunen held off compatriot Riitta-Liisa
Roponen, with Anna Dahlberg of Sweden finishing third. American
Kikkan Randall, a 24-year-old skier from Alaska, won the B-final to
finish seventh overall.

In the men's final, Petter Northug led a Norwegian sweep,
finishing ahead of world champion Jens Arne Svartedal and Eldar
Ronning. Yuchi Onda of Japan was fourth.

It was a second career World Cup win for the 21-year-old
Northug.

"This was my first in the sprint. I tried to stay in front and
control the group," he said.

Tobias Angerer of Germany still leads the overall standings.

In the hurricane sprint World Cup event, Bjorn Kircheisen of
Germany beat out Felix Gottwald of Austria.

Finland's Hannu Manninen continued as the overall leader.

Gottwald finished 14.2 seconds behind, and Jason Lamy Chappuis
of France was third, 30.5 back.

In the premiere for a new type, fast-paced hurricane sprint, the
athletes had to prepare for the cross country portion event almost
immediately after finishing their only ski jump.

They were placed to start skiing at a distance from each another
based on the lengths of the jump.

Espen Rian of Norway won the jumping, as he did the day before.
Rian was the only one to ski the minimum 7.5 kilometers. Eventual
winner Kircheisen, a good skier, had to start 102 meters behind,
and Manninen 540 meters behind after a mediocre jump.

Manninen finished 14th but increased his overall combined World
Cup lead by 12 points to 119 with two events left at Holmekollen,
Norway.

Manninen has 763 points, Norway's Magnus Moan 644 and Christoph
Bieler of Germany 643 points.