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Tuesday, February 12, 2002
 
Skari grabs gold in women's 10K

Associated Press


MIDWAY, Utah -- Norway's Bente Skari used a powerful finish to win the gold medal in the women's 10-kilometer classical cross-country race on Tuesday.

Bente Skari
Bente Skari celebrates after winning the 10K on Tuesday.
Skari covered the course at Soldier Hollow in 28 minutes, 5.6 seconds, pumping her arms hard over the final 100 meters to cross the finish line 2.5 seconds faster than Russia's Olga Danilova.

"It's a big surprise," Skari said. "I thought I was fighting for the silver medal until the finish line."

Skari prevented a Russian sweep. Julija Tchepalova won the bronze, finishing 4.3 seconds back, and Larissa Lazutina came in 16 seconds behind to take fourth.

Wendy Wagner was the top American, finishing 38th. She was followed by Nina Kemppel (40th), Tessa Benoit (54th) and Aelin Peterson (55th).

Skari's father, Odd Martinsen, won a gold medal for Norway at Grenoble in 1968 as part of a 40K relay, but he never won an individual gold.

Skari, 29, was asked what she would say to her father, who now oversees cross-country for skiing's international governing body, FIS. "I will tell him that I am a lot better than him," she said with a laugh.

The Norwegian men always have been dominant, but the women had never won a cross-country gold.

Skari, the world champion in 1999 and 2000, is known on the cross-country circuit as the "Classical Queen" for her skill in the technique, in which the skiers stay in narrow tracks. Freestyle resembles skating, with shorter skis.

She won the 5K classical bronze medal in Nagano, and has been dominant in recent years. She won both classic-style races at last year's World Championships, and has won all five World Cup classic races this season.

Skari skipped Saturday's 15K freestyle race to focus on her stronger events. "My skating is not so good," she said. But she will race in the combined pursuit, which pairs a 5K classical race, followed by a 5K freestyle race.

Danilova, who won three medals in 1998, led at the 5.8K mark, with Skari in fourth, 15.5 seconds behind. Skari made up 10.7 seconds in the final 1.3 kilometers, and erased the final four seconds of her deficit on the final hill leading to the stadium. Skari charged to the finish as Danilova watched.

"I had a glimmer of hope," Danilova said. "But then when I saw her crossing the finish line, I realized she was still the strongest."

Stefania Belmondo, who won Saturday's race, was fifth. Canadian Beckie Scott took sixth.

The 10K had been held from 1952-88, then dropped for three straight Olympics before being reinstated this year.