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U.S. Out of Cross-Country Sprints
Gold medals go to Sweden in men's division and Canada in women's division
By Jonathan Amdur
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Bjoern Lind of Sweden
Sweden's Bjoern Lind celebrates winning the men's sprint cross-country race at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Pragelato, Italy, February 22, 2006.
(Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)
Wednesday, February 22—Cross-country skiers don't race down mountains at 80 miles an hour, but they are still interested in speed. The fastest competitor to make it across the landscape wins, using skis to cut across mostly flat country.

The skiers start to move on the snow almost as if they were ice skating. They push themselves across the snow with ski poles, struggling to keep the lead. It takes a tremendous amount of strength for cross-country skiers to win a sprint in a matter of only a few minutes.

Proving himself the strongest in the 1.3km men's sprint, Bjoern Lind of Sweden easily won the Olympic gold in the sprint today. He finished the race in 2 minutes, 26.5 seconds. Crossing the finish line second for the silver was Roddy Darragon of France. Winning the bronze was Thobia Fredriksson, also of Sweden.

In the women's sprint, Chandra Crawford from Canada won the gold. Coming in second for the silver was Claudia Keunzel from Germany. The bronze went to Alena Sidko from Russia.

Unfortunately U.S. skiers did not qualify to participate in the final sprints for either the men's or the women's divisions.

For the men, Andy Newell and Chris Cook were the best hope for the U.S. Newell placed second in the morning qualifying round. Both he and Cook advanced to the quarterfinals, but were unable to go any further.

"I was happy with my second place in the qualifying round, but I'm not happy with my result," Newell said. "I am satisfied to be in the top 15. I'm looking to 2010 for a medal, though I had a medal in the back of my mind [today]."

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Italy's Cristian Zorzi celebrates with the Italian flag as he crosses the finish line
Italy's Cristian Zorzi celebrates with the Italian flag as he crosses the finish line to win the gold medal at the Men's Cross Country 4x10k relay at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 19, 2006.

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    (Photo: Andrew Medichini/AP Wide World)
  • Italians Stage an Upset
    Italy takes gold, while favored Norway comes in fifth in Men's Cross-Country Relay
    By Joe Wlos
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Sunday, February 19—Italy was victorious in the men's 4x10 km cross-country relay race, adding another medal to the six the country has already won. They outskied the favorites, Germany and Norway, by more than 30 seconds.

    In cross-country relays, teams have four members who each ski 10 kilometers. The course is laid out over hills and flatlands. Each team member skies his section alone then tags the next team member, who begins the next section of the race. It can take up to two hours for the racers to complete the course.

    It was a foggy, snowy day on the course Sunday. All of the skiers stayed somewhat close to each other at the beginning, but as the athletes grew tired, the leading group thinned out. Norway, the team favored to win, surprisingly found itself in the back of the pack. Italy, Norway's biggest rival, and Germany were the pack leaders throughout most of the race—at least until the final leg.

    Italy's Cristian Zorzi took a small lead of 5 seconds as soon as he started the last section of the race. Soon that lead grew to 30 seconds.

    The other skiers could no longer hope for gold as Zorzi alone entered the final stretch, far ahead of the pack. Before he crossed the finish line, he even took the time to go over to the audience and grab an Italian flag which he triumphantly carried along with him.

    Zorzi, whose nickname is Zorro, slowly glided past the finish line, enjoying the moment. His teammates joyously ran out to meet him.

    Germany and Sweden soon charged into the final stretch, racing for silver. They sprinted as quickly as their worn-out bodies would let them. Sweden gained ground on Germany but not enough to push the Swedes into second place.

    Germany won the silver medal. Norway, which was favored to win, made up time, but still placed only a disappointing fifth. Norway was the defending gold medal winner from the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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    Kristina Smigun of Estonia skis
    Kristina Smigun of Estonia skis her way towards the gold medal, during the Women's 10K classical cross-country race at the 2006 Winter Olympics, February 16, 2006.
    (Photo: Jens Meyer/AP Wide World)
    Estonia Skier's Surprise
    Norwegian favorite bested in the women's 10km classical cross-country
    By John Dixon
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Thursday, February 16—Estonia's Kristina Smigun stunned many with her gold medal win in the Women's 10 km classical cross-country race today. She bested five-time Olympic medalist (three of them gold) and pre-race favorite Marit Bjorgen of Norway by 21.3 seconds.

    Bjorgen finished second and won the silver, with a time of 28:12.7. Two of her Norwegian teammates finished right behind her. Hilde G. Pedersen won the bronze, and Kristin Stormer Steira finished a close fourth.

    The Americans performed miserably at this Olympic event, with no skier finishing higher than Wendy Wagner, who came in 50th of 70 racers. America's best hope, Alaskan Kikkan Randall, current national title-holder in this event, finished a disappointing 53rd. She had just finished serving a five-day suspension for elevated hemoglobin levels.

    Randall and 11 other skiers showed elevated levels of the red blood cell component that increases endurance last week. She and three other skiers were retested Monday and cleared for competition.

    Others who were suspended opted to wait until closer to their racing events before retesting.

    Officials were careful to note that elevated levels of hemoglobin do not necessarily mean affected athletes intentionally seek to enhance their performance through artificial means. Elevated hemoglobin levels can also be caused by dehydration. They can also be a side effect of the body's acclimation to higher altitudes.

    The next cross-country event is the men's 15 km classical final on Friday, February 17. On Saturday, February 18, the women compete in the 4x5 km relay final. The men run a 4x10 km relay final on Sunday, February 19.

    Wednesday, February 22 is a big day for cross-country with sprint competition for both men and women.

    The final cross-country event is the freestyle. Women's 300 km freestyle will be Friday, February 24. The men will run the 50 km freestyle the next day.

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    Sweden's Lina Andersson and Anna Dahlberg (L-R) celebrate on the podium
    Sweden's Lina Andersson and Anna Dahlberg (L-R) celebrate on the podium with their gold medals after winning the women's team sprint cross country race at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 14, 2006.
    (Photo: Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters )
    Sweden Does Double Cross
    Both men's and women's cross-country sprint teams win gold
    By Bianka Ndama
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Tuesday, February 14—Sweden's Bjoern Lind and Thobias Fredriksson won the gold in the men's cross-country skiing team sprint finals today in Pragelato, Italy. They added to Sweden's cross-country wins on the same day the women, Anna Dahlberg and Lina Andersson, took the gold in the women's team sprint.

    While some onlookers were rooting for a U.S. win, the two-man team of Chris Cook and Andy Newell did not make it into the finals. The pair finished seventh in the semifinals.

    Both were first time competitors in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games and were not the original pair trained to make the race. Torin Koos, who was supposed to have raced with Andy Newell, was recovering from a respiratory problem. He hopes to participate in the individual sprint on February 22.

    Norway's Jens Arne Svartedal and Tor Arne Hetland received the silver medal. Russia's Ivan Alypov and Vassili Rotchev won the bronze.

    In the women's cross-country team sprint, Anna Dahlberg and Lina Andersson won the gold. Sara Renner and Beckie Scott of Canada placed second, taking the silver medal. Aino Kaisa Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen of Finland came in third place for a bronze.

    The U.S. women's team of Kikkan Randall and Wendy Wagner made it into the finals but came in last behind the other nine teams.

    Sprint teams are two skiers who race in short relays three times each. The top five teams in the semifinals are qualified to enter the finals. A complete race takes about 17 minutes of intense skiing for 1.1 km.

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    Norway's Frode Estil displays his medal after the men's 30km pursuit cross country race on February 12, 2006.
    Norway's Frode Estil displays his medal after the men's 30km pursuit cross country race on February 12, 2006.
    (Photo: Giampiero Sposito/Reuters)
    Cross-Country Excitement
    Norway leads the pack at the start of the men's cross-country skiing event.
    By Jacob Wieseneck
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    February 12, 2006—No one thought that today's men's cross-country skiing in Pragelato, Italy, would have such an exciting finish! Coming from behind, Russia's Eugeni Dementiev captured the gold medal with a time of 1:17:00.8.

    The winner of the silver medal was Frode Estil of Norway. He had lost 45 seconds with a fall early in the race, but was able to work his way back to the front of the pack in time to earn the second place finish. He came in only .6 seconds behind Dementiev after what should have been a fatal fall.

    Third place was won by Italy's Pietro Piller Cottrer with a time of 1:17:01.7. The Italian fans' hope for a gold or silver medal were dashed when Dementiev and Estil passed the two hometown skiiers during the home stretch. Italy had to settle for Cottrer's third place, and for his teammate's fourth place ending.

    No American racer finished near the top of the leaderboard. The top U.S. racer was Carl Swenson from Park City, Utah. He came in 40th place with a time of 1:21:08.0. Second on the American list was Andrew Johnson from Greensboro, Vermont. He finished in 43rd place with a time of 1:21:16.8.

    One place behind him was James Southam of Anchorage, Alaska, with a time of 1:22:05.8 seconds. The 49th finisher of the race was also American, Lars Flora, also from Anchorage, Alaska. Lars finished the race in 1 hour 22 minutes and 31.2 seconds.

    The next event in men's cross country is the sprint semifinal on Tuesday, February 14.

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    Kristina Smigun from Estonia sports her gold medal after the medal ceremony for the Women's 15km Pursuit Cross Country race on February  12, 2006.
    Kristina Smigun from Estonia sports her gold medal after the medal ceremony for the Women's 15km Pursuit Cross Country race on February 12, 2006.

    (Photo: Anja Niedringhaus/AP Wide World)
    A Winner for Estonia
    Kristina Smigun takes home the gold.
    By Jacob Wieseneck
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Sunday, February 12—Estonians celebrated after Kristina Smigun's victory today in the 15 kilometer cross-country pursuit in Pragelato, Italy. In this Olympic cross-country race, the competitors change their skis at the 7.5 kilometer mark. They ski freestyle for the rest of the race.

    Smigun finished in 42:48.7 seconds to win the gold. The silver medal went to Katerina Neumannova from the Czech Republic who finished only two seconds behind, at 42:50.6 seconds.

    The bronze medal was awarded to Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva-Abruzova, who finished the race with a time of 43:3.2 seconds. Norway's, Marit Bjorgen, who was a favorite to win, did not complete the race, stopping halfway due to a stomachache.

    For the U.S. Ski Team, the top finisher, Rebecca Dussault came in 48th place. Dussault, from Gunnison, Colorado, finished with a time of 47:53.7 seconds. Behind her in 55th place was Lindsey Weier from Mahtomedi, Minnesota, with a time of 48:45.0 seconds.

    One place behind Weier was Bozeman, Montana's Abigail Larson at 48:47.5 seconds. The final U.S. entrant, Lindsay Williams from Hastings, Minnesota, came in 62nd place with a time of 50:49.7 seconds.

    The race was closely watched after 12 athletes were suspended earlier for failed blood tests. Defending gold medalists Evi Sachenbacher of Germany was one of the suspended skiers. Two Americans also failed the tests. They are scheduled to be retested on Monday and could be cleared for other events.

    The next women's cross-country event is the team sprint scheduled for Tuesday, February 14.

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    Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.