Thursday, February 12, 1998
Olympic history made 20 minutes apartHAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- First, Bjorn Dahlie won his sixth Olympic gold medal. Then he waited.
In the distance Philip Boit of Kenya was struggling doggedly in pouring rain, dead last among the 92 men in the 10-kilometer classical cross-country race, hopelessly far behind even the 91st-place skier.
It was Boit's first Olympic race, the first Winter Games competition ever for his country, run less than two years after the 26-year-old first laid eyes on snow. For a time in the race he grew so desperate that he gave up trying to glide and instead jogged in his skis, returning to his roots as a distance runner.
All the while, the Norwegian champion waited at the finish line. And when Boit crossed the line the two men embraced, perennial champion and indomitable novice, each the owner of a bit of Olympic history.
"I was very happy to see him finish," said Dahlie, the first man to win gold six times in the Winter Games. "I told him I was very impressed that he finished. He looked very tired."
"It's good for people from other nations to compete though it would be a problem if there would be too many."
Boit said the race was a learning experience.
"This is a new sport for me but I won't give it up," he said. "There's not going to be any sleep from now on. I want to see other racers finish behind me. I'm only 26 and I have 10 years ahead of me."
Markus Gandler of Austria clinched the silver, eight seconds behind Dahlie. Mika Myllylae of Finland, the 30K champion, won the bronze, 15.6 seconds behind the Norwegian.
Dahlie's historic achievement came after his flop in Monday's 30K, when he picked the wrong wax and lagged behind in 20th place.
This time he chose the right wax and led from start to finish.
"The conditions were very hard for everybody," Dahlie said. "Waxing was very difficult, 30 minutes before the start we changed the wax completely because the snow had gone from powder to wet."
"Fortunately we chose the right wax. I had waxed three pairs an hour before start, but then the weather changed. We prepared two new pairs and chose the right solution," he said.
Dahlie's winning time on the tough Snow Harp course was 27 minutes, 24.5 seconds, while Boit needed 47.25.5 -- almost enough time for Dahlie to ski two races. Boit at times knocked flags marking the course, looked very apprehensive on the downhill part and generally struggled in conditions that were tough even for experienced skiers.
Dahlie changed his rain-drenched racing gear, cleaned his skis and still had to wait for Boit to finish so that he could be officially proclaimed the winner.
At least Boit had the satisfaction that five racers did not finish.
"My aim is to become the Olympic and world champion. That is about three of four years coming. But I am trying to compete in as many competitions and I will be training all the time and competing and learning from these guys and stealing their techniques," Boit said.
Dahlie's triumph before a crowd huddled under umbrellas goes with the three golds he won at Albertville in 1992 and the two he collected in his native Norway in Lillehammer in 1994.
Dahlie went into these Games tied with speed skaters Eric Heiden of the United States and A. Clas Thunberg of Finland with five gold medals.
He is now tied with Lydia Skoblikova and Lyubov Egorova as the winningest Winter Games competitors. Skoblikova won her six golds for the Soviet Union at speed skating in 1960 and 1964, and Egorova's six for Russia came at cross country skiing at the Albertville and Lillehammer games.
Dahlie will also start as favorite in Saturday's 15K freestyle pursuit and goes into that race with an eight-second advantage over Gandler. The 10K race was the first leg of the pursuit.