Zhangjiakou, China, 19 February 2022 (dpa/MIA) — Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov stormed to his third gold and fifth medal at the Beijing Olympics in the final cross country race on Saturday that was shortened from 50 to 28.4 kilometers owing to adverse weather.
Bolshunov won the freestyle race by relentlessly attacking in the closing stages to whittle down a leader group until he was on his own on the final kilometer.
The dominant skier of the Games crossed the line in 1 hour 11 minutes 32.7 seconds.
Countryman Ivan Yakimushkin got silver 5.5 seconds behind. Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krüger got bronze in a strong return following a coronavirus infection, 7 seconds behind the winner.
Bolshunov is the first male skier to get five medals at one Games, the others being skiathlon and relay gold, 15km silver and team sprint bronze.
Strong wind and freezing temperatures of around minus 16 degrees Celsius led to the race being started an hour later and shortened.
Ruling body the FIS said this was “in regards to the athletes’ safety, to reduce the time of exposure of athletes in those conditions.”
German coach Peter Schlickenrieder had welcomed the decision, telling broadcaster ZDF that this was in the interests of the athletes due to a combination of the elements and the extremely challenging slopes.
“It will be a 30km which will require the effort of a 50km,” he said.
But British skier Andrew Musgrave slammed the change as “a joke” on Twitter before finishing 12th.
“FIS have just shortened the Olympic 50km to a 28km because it’s a bit cold and windy. I don’t see that that will make it any warmer or less windy,” he fumed.
Norwegian sprint and team sprint winner Johannes Hösflot Kläbo retired from the race after the third of four laps, having fallen behind early, and then stated feeling unwell.
“Last night I didn’t sleep at all; I was going to the toilet more than I was sleeping. I don’t know what it is,” Kläbo said.
“I made the decision this morning that I was supposed to skip the 50km, and then they made the decision that it was supposed to be 30km instead. Then I decided OK then, I will at least take a chance and see. It didn’t work at all, so not the ending I had hoped for, but that’s life.”