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    Saturday, February 14, 1998

    Dahlie, Alsgaard, two battling neighbors

     HAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- Thomas Alsgaard raised his arms in triumph. Bjorn Dahlie threw his head back in despair.
     Edging Dahlie by 1.1 seconds today in the men's 15K freestyle pursuit, Alsgaard kept Dahlie from winning an unprecedented seventh Winter Olympic gold medal.
     Dahlie still has two chances to rewrite Olympic history: The men's relay and the final event, the grueling 50K.
     "Thinking of the relay, I am glad I have this guy next to me on the same team," Dahlie said.
     Alsgaard still could provide crucial help in the 40K relay on Wednesday.
     Dahlie still became the winningest man in Winter Olympics history, with six golds and four silvers. That ties him with Raisa Smetanina of the former Soviet Union for most winter medals.
     "I don't look at the lists too much," he said. "I wasn't thinking of getting seven medals. I was focusing only on the race so I'm not disappointed at all."
     Maybe Dahlie was not entirely honest. At the finish line, he briefly congratulated Alsgaard, the two teammates barely exchanging glances and cool handshakes.
     Both racers admit there is more to their rivalry than who has the bigger car in the neighborhood.
     "We have some problems," Dahlie conceded.
     "Of course there's a big fight to be the best skier back in the home town," Alsgaard said. Drawing laughter from reporters at the post-race interview, he added: "Our house is 200 meters apart and he sends his kids to throw stones."
     The two live on the same street, in two newly built houses, in Nannestad. Alsgaard moved to the village 30 miles north of Oslo two years ago, while Dahlie has lived there most of his life.
     Alsgaard, 26, is the more laid-back of the two. He is known to skip a few days of practice now and then, and take a couple of weeks off in the summer.
     Dahlie, 30, is a fitness fanatic who enjoys superstar status in Norway. He co-hosts a hugely popular TV show featuring travel pieces from exotic wilderness locations.
     Both men began the Nagano Games in disastrous fashion -- Dahlie finishing 20th in the 30K, Alsgaard, the defending Olympic champion, dropped out, both victims of the wrong wax.
     But Dahlie stormed back to win the 10K two days ago, the first leg of the pursuit and his sixth gold medal in Winter Olympics, the most by any man.
     He went into today's race holding a 24-second advantage over Alsgaard, who was fifth in the 10K. By 5K, Alsgaard had made up five seconds; a little past the halfway mark, he was right behind Dahlie.
     The two looked at times as if they were training together, striding almost in perfect unison through the Snow Harp course made sloppy by a steady rain.
     Dahlie occasionally glanced back, but Alsgaard was content to let Dahlie lead. Once they reached the final straight, Alsgaard pulled away in seemingly effortless fashion and won in a combined time of one hour, seven minutes, 1.7 seconds.
     "I lost a lot of strength catching up with Bjorn," Alsgaard said, "so I decided to wait on the long uphill, rest and then focus on the finish."
     Dahlie came in 1.1 seconds behind, and Smirnov finished 29.8 seconds back in third. It was Smirnov's seventh Olympic medal; he will be defending the 50K title, the only gold in his collection.