CANOE NAGANO '98 ISP DIRECTORY
Saturday, February 14, 1998
Thwarted at home, but a gold-medal winner in Japan
HAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- What he couldn't do in two attempts at home in Norway, Bjarte Engen Vik did in faraway Japan.
Starting with a big lead from the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined, Vik cruised home in the cross-country competition today to win the gold medal in the two-day event.
"I had two perfect jumps. Normally, I would have a good chance of winning the event but if I had a bad race I could lose," Vik said.
"I didn't have a great race, but it was good enough for the gold medal and that's what's important."
It was Vik's first gold at a major event. He won the bronze at Lillehammer in 1994 and then flopped on a jump to end up with the silver at the World Championship last year in Trondheim.
"I knew I was good enough for the gold, but between knowing and getting it is a big gap," said Vik, the World Cup leader this season, who is usually better in the ski-jumping portion.
Vik's 94.5 meter jump Friday -- three meters longer than the best leap in the K90 individual competition -- set him up for an easy victory in the 15K cross-country leg.
Having taken a 36-second lead into the race, Vik was never threatened and skied home alone to win in 41 minutes, 21.1 seconds, 27.5 seconds ahead of Samppa Lajunen of Finland. Valery Stoljarov of Russia won the bronze, 28.2 behind.
Vik made it a double-winning day for Norway at the cross-country course when he added the Nordic Combined gold medal to go with Thomas Alsgaard's triumph in the 15K pursuit.
Like the pursuit skiers, Vik and the other 47 combined competitors had to combat persistent rain which made the Snow Harp course slushy.
Despite the wet weather, a crowd of 18,500 people turned up, mostly to cheer the Japanese team and its star, Kenji Ogiwara, who beat Vik in Trondheim for the gold.
With the race for the gold medal long decided, Ogiwara and several other racers were locked in a thrilling battle for the other medals.
Lajunen, last season's World Cup winner, edged Stoljarov in the home straight, while Ogiwara, who had dropped behind by then, ended up fourth, 1:21.1 behind Vik.