Cross-country thriller? It’s not an oxymoron |

Cross-country thriller? It’s not an oxymoron

AP Sports Writer
Russia's Alexander Panzhinskiy, left, silver, and Russia's Nikita Kriukov, right, gold, ski on the finish straight of the Men's individual classic sprint Cross Country final at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – It was one of the week’s most exciting moments at the Vancouver Games: cross-country skier Nikita Kriukov edging Russian teammate Alexander Panzhinskiy in a photo finish.

NBC can only hope the remaining cross-country races are as compelling as that one.

“It was really unbelievable. In fact, Nikita is my roommate and we’ve trained together many years,” Panzhinskiy said. “It is really a dream for us to be together on the podium and we didn’t know it was going to happen today.”

At the Olympics, no sport has a monopoly on drama. Unlike some other athletes, cross-country skiers stay close to the ground in a grueling but not always thrilling trek in the woods. The sport isn’t a candidate for too many play-of-the-day awards, so check elsewhere for graceful jumps or excessive speeds.

As an endurance test, though, the event stands out, rivaled at the games only by its cousin, the biathlon, and some of the longer speedskating races. It’s not uncommon for cross-country skiers to collapse in exhaustion after crossing the finish line, giving the viewer a clear picture of the price paid in pursuit of Olympic glory.

NBC plans to televise the men’s 30-kilometer pursuit Saturday, a day after airing the women’s 15-kilometer pursuit.

In recent years, cross-country skiing has become better suited for television. Kriukov and Panzhinskiy dueled in the individual sprint, a relative newcomer to the sport that features a quick pace.

In the women’s race, Petra Majdic of Slovenia won the bronze medal despite a frightening accident in a training run. She fell in a sharp curve and tumbled off the course, sliding on her back down a three-meter slope and onto some rocks.

Majdic won Slovenia’s first medal of these games.

The pursuit races combine classical and freestyle skiing techniques. It’s a mass-start race, with athletes beginning simultaneously. That can give an advantage to the top sprinters, who can tag along behind others and wait patiently for the fight to the finish.

Norway’s Petter Northug will try for his first Olympic gold in the men’s pursuit after winning two individual world championships last year. He took the bronze in the sprint Wednesday.

Also on Friday, NBC is televising the men’s Alpine super-G, with Bode Miller trying for his second medal of these Olympics. Miller was the world champion in that event in 2005 but slammed into a gate and failed to finish at the Turin Games the following year.

“Skiing is not relaxing. It’s an on-edge sport. Just because you win a medal doesn’t mean you cruise to the next podium,” Miller said after winning bronze in the downhill this week.

Switzerland’s Didier Defago, the downhill champion, is strong in the super-G as well. He finished eighth in it at last year’s world championship.

The other two medal events on a relatively light day Friday are in the skeleton, with competitors hurtling down an icy track headfirst at speeds approaching 100 mph. NBC will show the skeleton, the super-G, ski jumping and ice dancing’s compulsory program in prime time.

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