ZHANGJIAKOU (REUTERS) - Alexander Bolshunov brushed off fears of frostbite to take gold for the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the men's 50km mass start freestyle race on Saturday (Feb 19), saying the harder the conditions, the easier it was for him and his team.
The race was put back by an hour and cut to 30km due to bitterly cold temperatures and biting winds at the National Cross-Country Skiiing Centre but the changes did not bother Bolshunov, who would have preferred to go the full distance.
Bolshunov won the event in one hour, 11 minutes and 32.7 seconds, grabbing his third gold medal at these Games, while his ROC teammate Ivan Yakimushkin finished in 1:11:38.2 to win the silver, 1.5 seconds ahead of the bronze medallist Simen Hegstad Krueger of Norway.
"I wouldn't exactly feel good with this kind of weather, but I did say that the more challenging it is, the easier it is for us (the Russian team)," Bolshunov said.
"When I found out that the race would be shortened, I was a bit upset, I was getting ready for 50km but then I understand with the gusty wind like that and freezing temperatures, the outcome wouldn't have been as good, possibly.
"Then as we started skiing we eventually got warmer, picked up the pace but, all in all, I can say in retrospect we could have done all 50 kilometres."
Conditions improved as the afternoon wore on, making for a brilliant spectacle as the Russians battled it out with their Norwegian rivals.
"In the morning the weather was harder, the wind was stronger and the temperature was colder. When we started the race, the weather got a bit better," said Bolshunov, who set a record of five cross-country medals at a single Winter Olympics.
Yakimushkin said the distance did not matter and that there was only going to be one winner in the final men's race of the Games.
"Alex wanted to go the full distance and he would have won anyway, but on a longer distance he would have been much more uncomfortable and he would have to wait for us and get cold," he said.