Northug, Bjoergen give Norway double gold at Nordic worlds

FALUN, Sweden (AP) Petter Northug and Marit Bjoergen gave Norway a perfect start to the Nordic skiing world championships Thursday by winning the men’s and women’s cross-country sprints.

The two biggest names in cross-country skiing lived up to their billing on the opening day of the championships as Norway came away with four of six medals, including the two golds.

Bjoergen earned her 13th career world title – to go with six Olympic golds – by holding off Swedish rival Stina Nilsson to win the women’s classical-style race.

Bjoergen went from third to first when coming into the stadium and comfortably beat Nilsson and Olympic sprint champion Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway on the final stretch. She finished in 3 minutes, 26.63 seconds, beating Nilsson by 0.42 seconds. Falla was 0.99 back.

Bjoergen is already the most decorated women’s cross-country skier ever, and this was her 30th career medal at a world championship or Olympics. That puts her one ahead of men’s great Bjoern Daehlie, who won a record eight Winter Olympic golds.

She won her first gold at the 2003 worlds, also in the individual sprint.

”To still be fighting for a gold medal in sprint 12 years after is great,” Bjoergen said. ”I’m 34 years and still taking gold in sprint, so I’m really happy with that.”

Northug had to work a little harder down the stretch to earn his 10th world title – but first in an individual sprint – beating Alex Harvey of Canada by 0.05 seconds.

Northug used a trademark burst of speed to earn a gap on the rest of the field entering the final straight, but then only barely held off the fast-finishing Harvey. Harvey gradually closed the gap over the last 50 meters, forcing Northug to lunge forward at the line to hold off the Canadian. He finished in 3:02.35.

Olympic sprint champion Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway took bronze after beating Nikita Kriukov of Russia in a similar photo finish.

For Northug, this completed his gold-medal collection at major events. He already has world titles in the three individual long-distance disciplines – 15K, 30K skiathlon and 50K – and relay. He also won Olympic golds in team sprint and the 50K in Vancouver in 2010.

”It for sure it means a lot,” Northug said. ”Finally I got the individual gold that I didn’t have in the world championships. It feels good to have all four now, and to have a good start.”

It was an unusually emotional victory for the normally brash Northug, one of Norway’s most high-profile athletes and celebrities, who had tears in his eyes on the victory podium. It came after a turbulent year in which he was found guilty of drunk driving after crashing his car in May 2014, an incident that was front-page news back home. It was also the first time he competed against his younger brother Tomas Northug in a major final. The two advanced from the same quarterfinal and semifinal heats, and Tomas Northug finished sixth in the final.

”It gives you a little extra when you’re standing there (at the start line) with your brother,” Northug said. ”It means a lot to me. Maybe more to me than my brother that we’re racing together.”

It was a disappointing day for Kikkan Randall of the United States, a former overall sprint World Cup champion, who failed to finish among the top 30 in women’s qualifying. Randall is stronger in the freestyle sprints and has struggled to find her form this season.

”Today I just felt like I didn’t really nail it,” said Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska. ”Lost some key momentum at the top of the climbs. I gave it everything I had but I just haven’t quite found the magic yet this season.”