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    Sunday, December 14, 1997

    Daehlie, Russian women continue dominance

     LAGO DI TESERO, Italy (AP) -- Norway's Bjorn Daehlie handily won a 15-kilometer pursuit cross country race Sunday to extend his World Cup standings lead, while Russia edged Italy in a women's 4x5-kilometer relay.
     While Daehlie won for the third time in four races this season, the quartet of Svetlana Nagejkina, Elena Valbe, Larissa Lazutina and Olga Danilova gave Russia its 20th victory in the last 21 women's relays.
     Daehlie took full advantage of the head-start he earned by taking a 10-kilometer race Saturday. The world champion finished Sunday with a time of 35 minutes, 44.5 seconds, a full nine seconds ahead of countryman Thomas Alsgaard.
     Alsgaard actually had the best performance of any entrant Sunday, while Daehlie only skied the 14th-fastest time on the day. But his hefty advantage from Saturday held up.
     Austria's Michail Botvinov was third Sunday in 35:56.5, with Vladimir Smirnov of Kazakstan next in 36:11. There was a big drop off to fifth place, where Sweden's Henrik Forsberg clocked 36:36.5.
     The Norwegian duo is also 1-2 in the World Cup rankings. Daehlie has 332 points to Alsgaard's 206, while Smirnov (190), Forsberg (142) and Botvinov (130) are next.
     In the relay, Russia led throughout the race to continue its streak of success, finishing in 52:08.4. Italy, with Stefania Belmondo skiing a strong final leg, overtook the Russia II team for second place in 52:11.8. Russia II was next in 52:17.2.
     Belmondo, former world and Olympic champion, pulled past Russia II's Nina Gavriljuk in the final kilometer and was partnered by Gabriella Paruzzi, Manuela Di Centa and Sabina Valbusa.
     For Di Centa, her second race in two days following a 10-month injury absence was something of a struggle, but she kept the Italians in the hunt for a top-three finish.
     "There was a lot of tension and excitement. I think I skied well and, given that I'm still not in top condition, I'm pleased with my performance," said Di Centa, a two-time World Cup titlist and winner of five medals at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics who's battled a series of injuries this year.
     She was 17th in Saturday's 5-kilometer race, won by World Cup leader Bente Martinsen of Norway.