Norway's Krueger overcomes crash to win gold in men's 30km skiathlon
It's not how they start, but how they finish, and Simen Hegstad Krueger on Sunday finished strong.
Krueger overcame a crash at the opening gate to win gold in the men's 30km skiathlon by eight seconds at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The 24-year-old Krueger collided with Russian athletes Andrey Larkov and Denis Spitsov as the race got underway but was able to recover to storm back. He took the lead with 5 kilometers left and never looked back.
"I was completely last in the group," Krueger said, "so I had to start the race again and switch focus to catch up with the guys. When I did it, I was (saying to myself), 'OK, take one lap, two laps, three laps and just get into it again.
"I knew that my chance was to go early, try to surprise the group. When I got those meters, I had to go for it. I did not believe it when I turned and there was no one there. I just had to keep pushing forward until the final."
After the methodical climb — he was 37.8 seconds behind the leader at the 6km mark — Krueger earned his first gold medal in his first Winter Olympics.
"It is an indescribable feeling," he said. "It is an amazing day, but it started in the worst way with the fall after the first 100 meters and a broken pole. I was thinking this is over."
It was an all Norwegian podium, as Martin Johnsrud Sundby earned the silver medal and Hans Christer Holund took home the bronze.
The sweep was Norway's fifth medal sweep in cross-country skiing and 13th overall.
Only Netherlands has more medal sweeps than Norway in a single Winter Olympic sport — speed skating.
"It did not believe it," Holund said. "It was 12 other guys out on the last lap and usually when there are so many people, in the end, I am usually not fast enough but obviously the other competitors were really tired.
"It means a lot. It is something I have worked hard for many, many years and now I am here with an Olympic medal. Three (male) Norwegians on the podium, it is many years since the last time that happened."
Norway's last podium sweep came at the 2014 Sochi Games, as the women swept the 30km freestyle.
The last time the Norwegian men had a medal sweep was the 30km classic at the 1992 Albertville Games.
Norway now has 111 cross-country skiing medals. Only Austria (114) has more medals in a specific Winter Olympics sport.
"I think they did a very good job today," Dario Cologna, who won the gold in the men's 30km skiathlon at the 2014 Sochi Games, said of Norway. "I don't know if it's a big advantage, but in the end, they have been very strong. I had no chance to do something against them."
Spitsov also was able to recover but just missed the podium. He finished fourth. Larkov finished 30th.
Two cross-country events in and Team USA is still without its first medal in 42 years. On Saturday, Jessie Diggins was 4.6 seconds too slow from ending the drought in the women’s 15km skiathlon, and no American came close in the men’s skiathlon.
Scott Patterson was the highest-finishing American in the men's 30km skiathlon, closing in 18th place.
Thomas Maloney Westgaard, of Ireland, came in last place but crossed the finish line to a huge cheer from the crowd, including Norwegian fans.
Maloney Westgaard was born in Norway but switched his sporting allegiance to Ireland in 2016 because he wanted to represent the country of his mother's birth.
Cross-country skiing has Monday off. The competitions pick back up Tuesday, with both the men's and women's individual sprints.
Qualifying begins at 3:30 a.m. EST and can be streamed on NBCOlympics.com.