Iivo Niskanen perseveres to beat Alexander Bolshunov to cross-country 50km gold
Finland's Iivo Niskanen claimed gold in the cross-country skiing men’s 50km ahead of Alexander Bolshunov, who took silver for the Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Iivo Niskanen of Finland celebrates winning the gold medal during the Men's 50km Mass Start Classic on day 15 of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Alpensia Cross-Country Centre on February 24, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea (Getty Images)
Bolshunov, 21, was overtaken by Niskanen - who himself led for the majority of the race - with just over a kilometre to go, and the Finn crossed the line in 2:08:22.1, a comfortable 18.7 seconds ahead to add to the gold he won at Sochi 2014 in the team sprint.
The silver was Bolshunov’s fourth medal of the Games - having won two silvers in the team sprint and 4x10 relay, and bronze in the individual sprint – while compatriot Andrey Larkov raced ahead of the chasing pack to finish third.
Meanwhile, Team GB’s Andrew Musgrave finished 37th – 12mins3 5secs off the pace - with Callum Smith down in 54th, more than 19 minutes behind Niskanen.
Alexander Bolshunov, Iivo Niskanen, Andrey Larkov
Image credit: Getty Images
In a strong field, Niskanen made his breakaway attempt at around the 20km mark, gradually easing away from a group of a dozen skiers though Kazakhstan's Alexey Poltoranin remained hot on his heels.
At the halfway point the pair led with a gap of 11 seconds to the rest of the pack and the Norwegian trio of Sundby, Niklas Dyrhaug and Hans Christer Holund seemed to be biding their time before making their move, but it never came.
Instead, Bolshunov took up the chase after Niskanen, passing Poltoranin at around the 30km mark and blazing after the leading Finn, with the trailing pack now more than a minute behind.
Every time Bolshunov came into view, Niskanen seemed to up the tempo even more to restore his advantage, but with 15km to go Bolshunov started to close in on the Finn and by the time they entered the stadium again the lead had been wiped out.
Bolshunov passed him shortly afterwards and a titanic battle between the two ensued, with Niskanen content for Bolshunov to lead for several kilometres before making a final switch to fresh skis.
Rejuvenated, Niskanen made his break for gold with about one km to go, steaming past Bolshunov and pumping his ski poles for all he was worth.
His Russian rival seemed spent and could not respond, leaving the Finn to coast to a gold medal which will delight his countrymen, starved of success at recent Olympics.
Normally quiet and reserved, the 26-year-old burst into a broad smile, lifting his arms as the crowd rose to their feet to applaud him, led by a raucous band of jubilant, blue-and-white clad Finns.