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    Saturday, February 21, 1998

    Russians rebels prove team leaders wrong

     HAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- The stars of the Russian women's cross country ski team were practically gloating after winning medals in the 30-kilometer race. Not at their vanquished rivals, but at their team leaders.
     Yulia Tchepalova and Larissa Lazutina accounted for more than half of Russia's haul of individual medals in the Nagano Olympics, and helped their team sweep all five individual gold medals.
     Yet both had been at odds with Russian national coach Alexander Grushin. So they saw a lesson in their victories.
     "I hope this will shake up the Russian federation, I hope certain lessons will be drawn and past mistakes recognized now that a new generation is arriving," said Lazutina, the most successful cross-country skier of the games with two golds, a silver and a bronze, plus the relay gold with the Russian team.
     Lazutina, 32, said she didn't make real progress until she quit working with Grushin a year ago and hired a personal coach.
     "I was finally able to realize my own training program. I am very grateful to the men's team, they gave me a lot of strength and confidence," she said after winning the 30K bronze Friday.
     "I heard Grushin say on German TV that nobody achieved anything by leaving the team. I am glad that Yulia and I proved him wrong," Lazutina said.
     "We have excellent relations, but we can't work together," Lazutina said of her ties with Grushin.
     Tchepalova, 21, became the latest star in a crop of Russian champions when she won the 30K, the toughest women's race.
     She also opted not to train with Grushin, but instead trains with her father, Anatoly, who was the coach of the Russian junior team when she was a member. They usually practice in Austria.
     "It's much easier with my father, we are on very friendly terms," Tchepalova said. "In the team, there are so many people and only one coach."
     Tchepalova got a spot on the 30K Russian foursome after throwing a tantrum because she was left off the gold medal-winning relay team.
     "I cried a lot. I got a bit cross but then I thought 'Who cares about the relay? I'll show them what I can do,"' she said.
     She then won a four-woman trial and was told she would be on the team.
     Although he doesn't coach the two women, Grushin has final say in picking racers for each event. Grushin let Lazutina compete in every race, and she medaled in each.
     Keeping Tchepalova out of the relay and preserving her strength for the grueling 30K may have been smart, despite her tears. The Russians are so strong that winning the relay was almost a foregone conclusion no matter who raced, while young skiers often don't have enough endurance for the 30K.
     Lazutina said she broke with Grushin because he favored Yelena Vaelbe, the team's fading star. Vaelbe won five World Cup titles and swept the five golds in last year's worlds. But she hadn't won an individual gold in two previous Olympics, and she flopped again here.
     After seeing her finish 17th in the opening 15K, Grushin dropped Vaelbe from the next two races. She returned for the relay and in the 30K, in what she said would be the last race of her career, she finished fifth.