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    Saturday, February 14, 1998

    Norway dominates Nordic competition

     HAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- No matter what the competition or weather, Norway remains the king of the hill -- and the trail -- in the Olympic Nordic combined event. As usual, the only race was for second place.
     A day after gaining a big edge with a long ski jump, Bjarte Engen Vik skied home virtually alone in the cross country to put Norway into their accustomed place atop the medals table.
     Vik's 94.5-meter jump the previous day was three meters better than the best leap in the 90m individual competition and set him up for an easy victory in the 15-kilometer cross-country leg Saturday (Friday night EST).
     Vik -- what better name for one of Norway's Winter Olympics vikings? -- finished in 41 minutes, 21.1 seconds, or 27.5 seconds ahead of Finland's Samppa Lajunen, the 1997 World Cup champion. Lajunen edged Russia's Valery Stoljarov by seven-tenths of a second for the silver.
     "People were expecting medals from us and they are getting what they expected," said Vik, citing the one-for-all atmosphere on the Norwegian team. "We congratulate each other on the medals. We receive medal cakes. We eat meals together. We sing karaoke together."
     Vik made it a double-winning day for Norway at the cross-country course when he added the Nordic combined gold to Thomas Alsgaard's triumph over fellow Norwegian Bjorn Dahlie in the 15K pursuit.
     While Alsgaard won a thrilling race to the finish, Vik had a far easier time around a slightly easier 15K course to capture his gold, four years after he took the bronze in Lillehammer.
     Just like the pursuit skiers, Vik and the other 47 combined competitors had to combat persistent rain that made the course slower and slushier than usual.
     Vik started the cross country with a 36-second advantage over Stoljarov and soon increased his lead to almost a minute. As he reached the finish, with no other competitor in sight, Vik lifted his arms to acknowledge the cheers of the drenched crowd of 13,000.
     Stoljarov not only couldn't catch Vik, he couldn't hold off Lajunen, who started in sixth place, 27 seconds behind the Russian. Lajunen stayed behind Stoljarov until the final straightaway and beat him to the line for the silver as the crowd urged them on.
     Japan's Kenji Ogiwara, considered one of the favorites for the gold, held off Milan Kucera of the Czech Republic; his own twin brother, Tsugiharu Ogiwara; andNicolas Bal of France for fourth place.
     Todd Lodwick of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was the leading American, placing 20th after dropping from a ski-jump position of 13th. He finished 3:36.3 behind the winner.