Bjoergen wins women's 15K pursuit for 2nd gold 

Having finally ended her long wait for an Olympic gold medal, Marit Bjoergen sure was in a hurry to get another one.

The Norwegian cross-country skier became the first double gold-medal winner of the Vancouver Olympics on Friday after a dominant victory in the women's 15-kilometer pursuit.

After leaving the Salt Lake City and Turin Olympics with just a silver medal from each, the four-time world champion seems right at home atop the podium at these games.

"I knew that I was in great shape, but to take two golds, I never dreamed about it," said Bjoergen, who won the individual classical sprint on Wednesday. "It still hasn't dawned on me."

Bjoergen pushed the pace much of the way to distance herself from her rivals midway through the freestyle portion of the race. Although her victory never looked in doubt after that, there was plenty of drama surrounding the other medals.

In a three-way fight for the silver medal, Anna Haag of Sweden pulled away from pre-race favorite Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland and Kristin Stoermer Steira of Norway in the final sprint for her first Olympic medal.

Kowalczyk then took the bronze in a photo finish — even though Steira's name initially came up as the third-place finisher on the scoreboard. After reviewing footage of the finish, race official determined that the front of Kowalczyk's boot had passed the line a fraction of a second before the Norwegian's, as both lunged their legs forward at the last moment.

"Normally, I'm very bad at the finish line," Kowalczyk said. "But I have long legs. ... I'm very sorry for Kristin."

It was a cruel ending for Steira, who also had three fourth-place finishes in Turin and has yet to win an Olympic medal.

"I was just fighting with all I had. Today it wasn't enough," Steira said. "That was the best sprint I've ever done. At first, I was very, very happy. Then I got really sad. It first said on the big screen that I was No. 3, and then they changed it."

Unlike in the sprint, Bjoergen had the luxury of slowing down and enjoying the moment as she neared the finish. She entered the ski stadium with a comfortable lead, raising her hands in the air to salute the flag-waving Norwegian fans as she paraded down the final straightaway.

It's clear the first gold has eased some of the pressure on the 29-year-old Bjoergen.

"I said, 'Now I can relax and have fun,'" she said. "And today, I really had fun."

The race featured a mass start with skiers using the classical style for the first half, then switching to freestyle over the last 7.5 kilometers.

Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, the gold medalist in the 10K freestyle race, got tangled up and fell midway through the classical section. She got right back up to rejoin the leaders, but soon dropped back and was 28 seconds behind going into the freestyle portion.

"I don't know exactly what happened, but I was sitting on my back and then I lost a little gap to the others," Kalla said.

Petra Majdic of Slovenia didn't start after injuring her ribs in a training crash ahead of the sprint, where she won bronze.

Bjoergen, who also won bronze in the 10K, was up front from the start and used a grueling pace to break up the field. By the 5K mark, only seven skiers remained in the leading group, and only Kowalczyk and Finnish veteran Aino-Kaisa Saarinen managed to stay with her all the way into the stadium for the ski change.

The full seven-member group was soon intact again, however, before Bjoergen's rivals started dropping off one by one. With only the last four remaining, Steira went up front to push the pace in an uphill section, getting a small gap on the others before signaling to Bjoergen to help her out.

"Then I attacked, and I got a gap," Bjoergen said. "With about a kilometer to go, they told me I had a 20-second lead. Then I knew that this was my day."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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