Niskanen captures Finland's first PyeongChang gold
In a field of 71, the 50-kilometer mass start came down to two.
It was never really in question.
Iivo Niskanen made his move on the final 1.66 kilometers and cruised to the finish line Saturday to win Finland's first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in the final men’s cross-country skiing competition.
"The first but not the last," Niskanen said. "Tomorrow is a new day. I (was) wanting to win my gold medal (over) this distance and it has been long years awaited, long four years actually.
"But (I) could handle the pressure and everything went perfectly today. It's a big deal for us. I saw the list. The last Olympic champion in an individual race was 20 years ago."
Niskanen and Alexander Bolshunov, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, were neck-to-neck from around the 30.7-kilometer mark to the finish, with Bolshunov taking the lead for a brief while after Niskanen stopped to change his skis.
"I did not know how the skis were working and I did not know how many kilometers Bulshunov had used his pair," Niskanen said. "Then I tried to catch him as soon as possible, and in the long downhill, the fresh skis are much faster.
"Then I only needed to save energy at the end."
In the end, Niskanen had enough left in the tank for one final push.
The 26-year-old Niskanen moved into the lead 17.54 kilometers into the marathon and by the 34.2-kilometer point, Niskanen and Bolshunov separated themselves from the pack.
Niskanen finished the 50km mass start in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 22.1 seconds. The gold is the second Olympic gold of his career and first in an individual event. He was part of Finland's gold-medal team during the team sprint at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Bolshunov closed 18.7 seconds behind to capture the silver medal. OAR’s Andrey Larkov took home bronze.
"I am disappointed because today," Bolshunov said, "I could win gold medal. It was a little tactic fault from me, maybe I should have changed my skis.
"With those skis, I could not fight for the gold medal at the finish line with Niskanen. It is just my fault."
The silver medal the 21-year-old Bolshunov's fourth career Olympic medal, all coming in these Games. Three of his four medals have been silver.
Bolshunov is the third athlete to win four medals at these Games, joining Norway's Marit Bjorgen and Sweden's Charlotte Kalla.
"I am happy with my results here," Bolshunov said, "but in today's race, it must be my race and of course, I am disappointed with this result."
Larkov, 28, acquired his second medal of these Games. He was part of OAR's silver-medal team during the 4x10km relay.
Without Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, who skipped the men's final cross-country event after winning three golds in PyeongChang, Norway failed to make the podium for the first time in a cross-country event in PyeongChang.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Hans Christer Holund, the top two Norwegian finishers, came in fifth and sixth place, respectively. Norway has one more event to add on to its cross-country skiing medal lead.
The Norwegians have 13 medals in cross-country during these Games, including six golds.
Cross-country ends Sunday (1:15 a.m. EST) with the women’s 30km mass start.