Winter Olympics: Norway's Graabak storms through for second large hill gold

Gold medallist Joergen Graabak of Norway celebrates on the podium during the flower ceremony on Feb 15, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

ZHANGJIAKOU (REUTERS) - Norway's Joergen Graabak produced another trademark late surge to take Olympic gold in the Nordic combined large hill/10km race on Tuesday (Feb 15) after a similar charge came up inches short when he claimed silver in the normal hill event last week.

Graabak, the 2014 large hill champion in Sochi, started the cross-country race in 12th place, a massive 2 minutes and 7 seconds down on compatriot Jarl Magnus Riiber, who was launching an unlikely bid for glory a day after being released from two weeks of Covid-19 illness and isolation.

Just as he did last week, Graabak sat back in the field and timed his charge perfectly to edge compatriot Jens Oftebro, who also came from deep to take silver, and Japan's Akito Watabe, who secured bronze.

Germany, who swept the podium in 2018, had to settle for a fourth place in the shape of late call-up Manuel Faisst.

It was a thrilling finale to a competition that had begun in remarkable fashion on the ski jump hill as Riiber, who tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in Beijing and was released from isolation only on Monday, produced a monster 142-metre leap to earn a 44-second lead going into the cross-country leg.

Restricted to exercising in his hotel room, Riiber was always likely to fall away, though his lead disappeared more suddenly than he can have envisaged when he took a wrong turn at the end of the first of four 2.5km laps.

Faisst, Watabe and Austrian Johannes Lamparter swept him up and the group of four were clear at the 7.5km mark before Riiber ran out of gas and faded to finish eighth.

As the field closed and positions quickly swopped, the leaders put their heads down for the final push and Graabak, who came up just short behind Germany's Vinzenz Geiger in the normal hill, this time did just enough.

"It feels unreal to be honest - I think I'll have to see the replay to believe it," Graabak said.

"To start two minutes behind, that's hard, and again it's all happening in the final 400 metres and in the end I managed to push in front on the last turn.

"We saw in the first race that everything is possible, especially in the last lap. We put ourselves in a position where we could take advantage if we were given the opportunity.

"We were working well together and managed to be in a good position and when we got the chance we took it and you can always find something down deep when you need to.

"We also we had really good equipment, good skis today - and that helps."

Oftebro, who started in 10th place, 1:47 off the lead, said: "It was a fantastic race for us. Starting that far back I didn't think we could manage to get all the way but I just tried to give my all on the final sprint."

Asked how he was able to summon the energy for the last, all-important effort, he said: "It's really motivating to see the medals in front of you on the last lap and I think you get some extra energy.

"When you catch them on the last hill, that's just a really good feeling. And you just want to push all the way to the line."

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