Estonia Wins First Winter Medals

From Associated Press

The Norwegians knew someone eventually would challenge them as the world's elite men's cross-country team. They just didn't expect it this soon.

Estonia won its first Winter Olympic medals Tuesday as Andrus Veerpalu took the gold and Jaak Mae the bronze in the men's 15-kilometer classic-style cross-country race. Norway's Frode Estil got the silver.

"This is a great, great success for Estonia," Veerpalu said. "I feel very proud."

American John Bauer finished 12th, the best U.S. cross-country showing since Bill Koch won the silver in a 30K race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games.

Bente Skari won Norway's third gold of the Games in the women's 10K classical, finishing ahead of Russians Olga Danilova and Julija Tchepalova.

While Skari's victory was hardly a surprise, the performance of her male countrymen has been. Estil's silver is only the second medal for Norway in four races, well off the pace of its goal--10 medals in 12 cross-country events.

Johann Muehlegg, a German racing for Spain, won Saturday's 30K freestyle race, and the best the Norwegians could do was fourth.

At the Nordic world championships in Finland almost a year ago, Veerpalu won a 30K race by just two-tenths of a second over Estil. Afterward, Estil said the victory--Estonia's first-ever world title--was good for the sport.

"Norway has so many gold medals," Estil said at the time.

Estil didn't feel any different after Veerpalu beat him again.

"Norway has dominated this sport in the last 10 years, so I think it's important for this sport that other nations win, too," he said. "But I hope there soon will be some gold medals for Norway, too."

Norway won four cross-country golds in Nagano on the men's side alone, but three belonged to Bjorn Daehlie, who retired.

Unlike Veerpalu, Skari was behind most of the way in the women's race until she made a late surge to win her first gold medal.

She finished in 28 minutes 5.6 seconds, pumping her arms hard over the final 100 meters to cross the finish line 2.5 seconds faster than Danilova.

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