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NEWS FEATURE Russian cross-country skiers grab eight medals, hope to see flag By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe, Europa
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Russia‘s cross-country ski team raised their Olympic tally to eight medals with 50km silver and bronze and hope to march under their own flag again at the Pyeongchang closing ceremony.

Pyeongchang, South Korea (dpa) - Thick fog had descended on the Alpensia cross country centre as Andrey Larkin expressed hope that Russian athletes would be fully visible again at Sunday‘s closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

"Tomorrow we will find out what our fate will be. We just need to respect the rules. We hope our fate will be different," he said.

Larkin had just taken 50-kilometres bronze, behind Finnish winner Iivo Niskanen and silver medallist Alexander Bolshunov - with Larkin and Bolshunov officially competing as Olympic Athlete from Russia in neutral suits and the Olympic flag hoisted at podium ceremonies.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was to decide later Saturday or Sunday whether Russians would be allowed their own uniforms and flag again at the closing ceremony or whether doping related sanctions would stay - with two of their athletes testing positive in South Korea over recent days.

The IOC had denied some of Russia‘s cross-country stars entry to the Games over doping practices in Russia and at the Sochi 2014 Games - including Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin, who had led a Russian 50km sweep four years ago.

Last year‘s Tour de Ski winner Sergey Ustiugov also had to stay home, and in light of these absentees a mainly young Russian team fared surprisingly well, taking three silvers and five bronze for eight medals, only surpassed by the 13 from powerhouse Norway ahead of Sunday‘s concluding women‘s 30km.

The 21-year-old Bolshunov led the way as the only men‘s cross-country skier with four medals: silvers in the team sprint, relay and 50km, plus a sprint bronze.

Bolshunov didn‘t want to compare Saturday‘s race to that from four years ago, saying: "I am only starting to compete at this level. I can‘t compare it to their race. I am my own man, they were their team. We just do our best and move ahead."

While happy overall with his four-medal haul in his Olympic debut, Bolshunov admitted he had hoped for more in the 50km where he found no answer to a late attack from Niskanen and complained that bad skis cost him victory.

"I am a little disappointed. I could have won the race," he said. "It got much colder during the race and the skis were not as slippery as they should have been.

Bolshunov added: "I was not in the right position to change skis" at 42km when he continued while Niskanen went into the pits for a fresh pair.

However, it appeared that the youngster made a rookie‘s mistake, not daring to stop while in the lead from where he couldn‘t see what Niskanen would be doing and possibly fearing to fall behind.

The decision proved decisive as Niskanen had no problem after the ski change to catch up again and then ski to gold.

"The snow was dirty, there was a big difference between fresh and old skis," Niskanen said. "I waited to attack and had enough energy in my body."


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