Martin Johnsrud Sundby (L) Simen Hegstad Krueger (C) Hans Christer Holund (R)
Martin Johnsrud Sundby (L) Simen Hegstad Krueger (C) Hans Christer Holund (R) lead a 1-2-3 Norwegian podium sweep in the skiathlon; Yonhap/IANS

It’s an embarrassment of riches. Norway has dominated the medals table at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, easily eclipsing Germany, Canada and the US in the medal count.

In fact, in the cross country skiing event called the skiathlon on February 11, 2018, a first-time Norwegian Olympian, Simen Hegstad Krueger, gave the entire field of skiers a huge advantage, and still won handily.

To be honest, there is nothing easy about cross-country skiing, which is a grueling sport that requires tremendous levels of endurance. In the skiathlon, competitors have to ski 15 kilometers in the classical technique (similar to a walking motion), and 15 more kilometers in the freestyle technique (similar to a ice skating motion).

And Krueger, who was in the middle of the pack of 68 competitors, was given an even greater challenge. Tripped at the start of the 30-kilometer race, only 200 meters into the start, he fell to the snow, taking down two OAR athletes who fell on top of him. In the fall, one of his poles had snapped, and he had to get another one from his coach.

Suddenly , Krueger was dead last.

A fall like this would demoralize a large number of athletes. But Krueger took it one push of his poles at a time. “I was completely last in the group,” Krueger said in this NBC article, “so I had to start the race again and switch focus to catch up with the guys. When I did it, I was (saying to myself), ‘OK, take one lap, two laps, three laps and just get into it again.”

Simen Hegstad Krueger below two OAR skiers
Krueger takes a spill_Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

As Business Insider showed in this pictorial of Krueger’s progress, the Norwegian put together an amazing come back, passing 62 other skiers over the next 22 kilometers, moving into 5th place with 8 kilometers left.

Finding another gear, Krueger all but forgot his spill and last-place re-start, and moved into the lead, and built it. As Business Insider put it, “In a performance that can best be described as some combination of awesome, courageous, and (Katie) Ledeckian, Krueger put distance between himself and the rest of the field.”

Krueger won the 30-kilometer skiathlon 8 seconds ahead of Martin Johnsrud Sundby and almost 10 seconds ahead of Hans Christer Holund, making it a podium sweep for Norway.

“It is an indescribable feeling,” Krueger said. “It is an amazing day, but it started in the worst way with the fall after the first 100 meters and a broken pole. I was thinking this is over.”

Krueger was in it for the long haul, and as they say, it isn’t over until it’s over.

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Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexander Legkov, Ilya Chernousov, XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi
Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexander Legkov, Ilya Chernousov, XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi © Alexander Vilf / Sputnik

It was a proud moment for a proud nation.

Three Russians stood on the medal podium in the 50k freestyle cross-country skiing competition, on the last day of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In a spectacular finish to a grueling race, Russia’s Alexander Legkov and a few others broke the pack of about 30 skiiers for a final push.

And the push was up a steep incline before entering the stadium. Legkov pushed past the finish line after a tough 1 hour 46 minutes and 55.2 seconds, only 0.7 seconds ahead of compatriot, Maxim Vylegzhanin, and 0.8 seconds ahead of another Russian, Ilia Chernousov.

As Russian teammate, Sergey Gamuzov, gushingly exclaimed in this article, “Russia power, Alexander Legkov, the power of Russia! It was wonderful day!”

That was then. This is now.

In late December, 2016, Legkov and Vylegzhanin were suspended by the International Ski Federation after their names came up in the now-famous McLaren report on state-sponsored doping in Russia, particularly during the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. The IOC made it official by giving Legkov and another Russian skier, Evgeniy Belov, on November 1, and four more Russian cross-country skiers on November 9, including Vylegzhanin, lifetime bans in Olympic competition. They will also have to forfeit the medals they won.

There is very little written about it, but for some reason, third-place winner, Ilia Chernousov, has not been implicated in the doping scandal, so for now, he retains his bronze medal. And while no decision has been made in distribution of medals, it’s very possible that the 4th and 5th place winners in the Sochi 50k cross country ski competition – Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway and Sergei Dolidovich of Belarus – could receive medals, with Chernousov becoming the gold-medalist.

Sochi 50k cross country ski medal standings

Predictably, the Russian skiers are not happy, as written in the Russian English news site, RT.

“Foreign officials are trying to put pressure on our country,” said Alexander Legkov, who was stripped of his 50km gold and 4x10km relay silver earlier this month by the International Olympic Committee. “The athletes are pawns in this game, and easiest to punish.”

“I haven’t got the faintest idea of any state-sponsored doping system,” said Legkov, who insists that he competed fairly, and always worried about his clear samples being contaminated.

“It’s hard when people don’t believe you. You open up to people and tell them the truth, but they are closed to you,” added Maksim Vylegzhanin, who had three Sochi silvers taken away from him.