Norway restores order by winning women's cross-country relay
Marit Bjoergen collected one of the few records she didn't already have as Norway restored some order to women's cross-country skiing Thursday by easily winning the 4x5-kilometer relay at the world championships.
It was Bjoergen's 14th world title to go with four silvers and three bronze medals, putting her ahead of Russian great Yelena Valbe, who won 14 golds and three silvers. Bjoergen is already the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history with six golds and 10 medals overall and has a record 72 individual World Cup victories.
Her teammates did most of the work this time, as Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen decided the 4x5-kilometer race on the third leg, taking advantage of a fall by Swedish rival Maria Rydqvist to build a gap of 18 seconds before handing over to Bjoergen.
That was more than enough for the anchor racer, who grew the advantage even more and had time to slow down to grab a Norwegian flag to wave on the final straight before finishing in 49 minutes, 4.7 seconds.
Sweden took silver after Stina Nilsson beat Krista Parmakoski in a sprint for second. Sweden was 29.2 seconds behind Norway, with Finland another 1.6 seconds back in third.
Heidi Weng and Therese Johaug skied the first two legs as Norway won its third straight world championship gold in the women's relay. But this victory was extra sweet after a rare mishap at the Sochi Olympics last year.
The Norwegian women were massive favorites for the relay in Sochi but the team's wax technicians chose the wrong setup for the snow conditions and Norway finished fifth. In Tuesday's 10K freestyle race, the Norwegian team had similar problems and didn't have a skier among the top 20.
''We've wanted revenge ever since Sochi, and especially after Tuesday's race,'' Bjoergen said. ''To come back again and give the people back home and the (fans) here a gold again, it's incredible.''
Olympic champion Sweden was just behind Norway after two legs but the host's chances of gold ended when Rydqvist fell shortly after going out on the third leg.
In the Nordic combined large hill event, Bernhard Gruber of Austria pulled away from Francois Braud of France on the final lap to win his first individual world championship title.
Gruber held a slim lead after the ski jump portion and then had the strongest finish in the 10K cross-country race, attacking on the last uphill climb to leave Braud behind. Gruber finished in 22:45.8, with Braud 11.9 seconds behind to take silver.
''Francois was pushing really hard ... and I had to fight really hard to stay behind him,'' Gruber said. ''In the last uphill ... I tried to push really hard, and in the end I made it.''
Normal hill champion Johannes Rydzek then beat Norway's Magnus Moan in a tight sprint for the bronze medal. Bryan Fletcher of the United States was fifth, 23.4 seconds behind.
Gruber helped Austria win both team events at the 2011 worlds and took silver in the large hill competition in 2013.
Later Thursday, the men's ski jumpers also competed on the large hill.