CANOE NAGANO '98 ISP DIRECTORY
Friday, February 20, 1998
Japanese reign ends
HAKUBA, Japan (AP) -- Perfect timing and some very strong skiing brought Norway another gold medal, and reduced the roars of Japanese fans to polite applause.
Bjarte Engen Vik, already the individual gold medalist in Nordic combined, added the team gold Friday as he and a trio of swift-skiing countrymen caught and passed Finland on the cross-country course.
France took the bronze.
Even with Emperor Akihito cheering it on, the Japan could not overcome a disappointing performance on the ski-jump hill and saw its reign as Nordic team champion ended after two straight Winter Games. The Japanese team didn't even get a medal this time, finishing fifth behind Austria.
Vik, skiing the third leg of the 20-kilometer relay, built such a commanding lead that anchorman Fred Boerre Lundberg could carry a Norwegian flag the final 400 meters to the finish line.
He waved it in celebration, even acknowledged someone he recognized in the crowd, and crossed the finish line in 54 minutes 11.5 seconds, 1:18.9 ahead of the field.
Vik said the latest Norwegian victory -- the nation trails only Germany in the medals table -- started before the games, when he and his teammates broke a season-long jumping funk.
"We were struggling all winter with jumping but we got perfect preparations just before the Olympics," the leader of the Viking team said.
Lundberg, the 1994 individual gold medalist who won silvers at Albertville and Lillehammer , was convinced of victory after the Japanese managed only fifth place in Thursday's ski jumping, the portion they usually dominate.
"The last two games they had perfect days in jumping," he said. "But this time we were stronger."
Starting with a 4-second lead, Samppa Lajunen, whose leap of 94.5 meters put his team in first, soon lost that advantage to Norway's Halldor Skard, who went into the first changeover 11.6 ahead. Kenneth Braaten widened the lead, and Vik handed Lundberg a 1:17.6 lead going into the final leg.
Some 18,000 Japanese fans, including the emperor, politely applauded the Norwegian victory. Their big star, world champion Kenji Ogiwara, was still out on the course, far behind.
"We had too much to do after our performances in the jumping," said Ogiwara, who was in the Japanese lineups in 1992 and '94. "We tried our best, especially for the supporters. If we'd have jumped better, we may have had a chance of a bronze."
The Finnish quartet of Lajunen, Jari Mantila, Tapio Nurmela and Hannu Manninen, held on to second, while France came up strong in the cross country after finishing th jumps sixth.
The French lineup included Fabrice Guy and Sylvain Guillaume, who placed first and second in the individual Nordic Combined before their fans at Albertville in 1992.