Iivo Niskanen put on a brilliant display of skiing to win gold for Finland in the men’s 15km classic race at the Beijing Games on Friday, adding the title to the 50km Olympic classic gold he won at Pyeongchang in 2018.
Skiathlon champion Alexander Bolshunov, representing the Russian Olympic Committee, took the silver after his finishing spurt proved too little, too late, with recently-crowned sprint champion Johannes Klaebo of Norway picking up the bronze medal.
Niskanen was relentless, barely wasting a watt of energy as his efficient, economic classical style again bore fruit for the Finns, who took silver and bronze through his sister Kerttu and Krista Parmakoski in the women’s race on Thursday.
Early bright sunshine gave way to overcast skies as the crowd waved flags and wore outsized plastic glasses with Olympic motifs as American Ben Ogden got the race underway, with the rest of the 97 athletes following him at 30-second intervals.
The seeded skiers were dropped into the middle of the pack, and the race came to life with the introduction of Klaebo as the 42nd starter.
After a slow beginning by his standards, Klaebo discovered his mojo by the 10.5km mark, gliding into the lead after an uphill stretch but with Niskanen and Bolshunov, who started last of the seeds, in his wake the threat was ever-present.
Niskanen displayed the same kind of metronomic skiing that had him neck-and-neck with Bolshunov until the switch to freestyle in Sunday’s skiathlon, this time building up a lead of 11.4 seconds over the Russian at the halfway point.
Ahead of them, Klaebo sprinted up the final straight to give himself the best possible chance of getting on the podium, but Niskanen blazed over the finish line to snuff out any hopes the Norwegian may have had of gold.
The challenge of Bolshunov, who won Sunday’s skiathlon race, had wilted at the 10.5km mark but he dug deep again, closing the gap by almost six seconds.
However, he ran out of time and ended up having to be content with silver, 23.2 seconds behind Niskanen.
By the time Bolshunov reached the final bend, the Finn knew the gold was his, and he let out an uncharacteristic victory roar as the Russian crossed the line.
The two rivals shared an exhausted embrace at the end, but for Niskanen the celebrations were only just beginning.