Alexander Bolshunov of the ROC ended his 2022 Winter Olympics experience the way he started it: by winning gold.
No one could have predicted what was going to happen in the men’s freestyle mass start competition. Traditionally, athletes are supposed to race 50km. But, after conditions on the course worsened with blistering 40 mile per hour winds and negative temperatures, the race was dropped to 30km to reduce the time of exposure of athletes in extreme conditions. This was the first time the 50km men’s mass start was shortened in the history of the Winter Olympics.
The race was 17.5 miles, just short of 30km and totaled 28km with four laps of 4.5 miles, chopping off an extra hour of racing time with the 20km difference.
Bolshunov maintained his presence in the lead pack without over exerting himself too early and remained conservative. He might have been too composed at one point during the third lap when he fell to fifth, giving up his lead to France’s Clement Parisse who later finished the race in seventh.
Thankfully for Bolshunov, his descension was short-lived and didn't deter him from winning gold. He managed to answer every challenge from competitors including Simen Hegstad Krueger's surge up the final gradient. The Norwegian took bronze 7.0 seconds after the ROC athlete.
Bolshunov dialed up the pressure and hit the accelerator on the downhill to cruise in the tail-wind. He won his ninth career Olympic medal with a time of 1:11:32.7, adding another layer to his Olympic legacy.
The 25-year-old athlete made history as the first male cross-country skier to win five Olympic medals at a single Winter Games. He has won a medal in every Olympic event in which he has entered — nine total — since his Olympic debut in 2018.
The extreme, tundra-like conditions on the course were not the only surprises of the final men’s cross-country skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Norway’s Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo did not finish the race and walked off the course in the middle of his third lap. He switched his skis at the halfway point in hopes it would make a difference with his fleeting ski times, but he continued to come undone. Klaebo started to pack up his equipment on the course before making his exit.
He won four Olympic medals at these Games, two of them gold from the men’s individual sprint and team sprint. Klaebo was in contention, alongside Bolshunov, to break the Olympic record for most medals won by a male cross-country skier at a single Winter Games. He has seven career Olympic medals, five of them gold.
Kalebo’s uncharacteristic “DNF” played to the advantage of Bolshunov’s compatriot Ivan Yakimushkin. He won his first Olympic medal 5.5 seconds behind Bolshunov at 1:11:38.2 to clinch silver.
American skier Scott Patterson had the race of his life and improved on his 11th-place finish in the mass start at 2018 PyeongChang. His goal was to make the top 10 and he finished in eighth with a time of 1:12:06.6.
The men’s 50km freestyle mass start concluded the cross-country skiing program at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
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