There were only half as many surprises Sunday, the second and final day of the FIS Folksam World Cup cross-country races, as there were on the first day.
Gunde Svan brushed off a poor first day and led his Swedish team to a strong win in the men's 4-by-10 kilometer relay - as expected.But then Stefania Belmondo, who just stepped up from the junior ranks to join the Italian women on the World Cup tour, turned heads, and cameras, by winning the women's 15-kilometer free technique event, thereby stopping total Soviet domination.
In that race, too, the U.S. Team got an ounce of respectability in this European-dominated sport, thanks to Leslie Thompson, who now lives and trains in Park City. Thompson, before a mostly home-town crowd, finished 19th, which is the best finish by an American skier in women's World Cup racing in five years.
If anyone had reason to do well Sunday, Svan and the Soviet team did. To this point, neither had done well.
Svan, who had never finished lower than 6th all last year, came in 10th on Saturday in a race he was expected to win. It did not speak well of the man many consider the best cross-country skier in the world. But there was another reason, too, for him to do well on Sunday. Skiing opposite him on the last leg of the race was Bjorne Daehlie of Norway, the man who had so soundly beaten him on Saturday.
From the very start, four teams moved into the lead - Sweden, two teams from Norway, and the Soviets. After two skiers, or 20 kilometers, only seven seconds separated three of the teams, and the fourth was 45 seconds off the pace. By the time Svan and Daehlie were tagged, Sweden had only an eight-second lead. When he crossed the finish line, Svan had stretched it out to 13 seconds. He'd beaten Daehlie and won the gold.
Total time for the Swedes was one hour, 48 minutes, 31.8 seconds, and for Norway's No. 1 team it was 1:48:43.6. Norway's No. 2 team passed the Soviets on the last leg to take third in 1:50:10.9. The Russian team clocked a 1:50:17.7
The best the U.S. team could do was 12th with a time of 1:55:55.9.
Greg Stone, of Ketchum, Idaho, said the goal of the Americans was to catch the Canadian team. As it was, the Canadians finish slightly more than a minute ahead of the Americans.
After the race, Svan said he was glad he had a lead.
"I didn't feel all that good today. I felt I skied about as well as I did yesterday. Today I was just able to stay ahead," he said.
The stage was being cleared for the Soviet women as course officials began monitoring times toward the end of the race. Indications were that the four Russians entered were holding down places one through four, and that the next best skier was a good 20 seconds back.
Suddenly, as Belmondo skated across the finish, the scoreboard blinked off, then on again with everyone shifted down one spot. The petite, 19-year-old Italian, skiing in her first World Cup, had won the race by nearly seven seconds over the top Soviet skier - Larissa Lazhutina.
Belmondo's time was 44 minutes, 8.2 seconds. Lazhutina's time was 44:15.5. Third was Elena Vialbe in 44:33.4. Thompson's time was 47:37.4.
Her coach said it was because she was so small that there was less friction between the snow and her skis, "and she can go faster."
She said it was because she felt good and didn't lose energy.
"I did not get tired," she said through an interpreter "I just kept going and going. I knew I could do well. I didn't think I would win."
Consensus between many of the coaches and athletes was that this was a very good race, considering it was on the brink of being canceled. There was almost a complete lack of snow on the golf course just three weeks ago. Had it not snowed some over Thanksgiving, and had not volunteers turned out almost daily to shovel snow by hand onto the five-kilometer track, there would not have been a race.
But there was, and racers said on Sunday that the track, despite a few places where fairway showed through, was certainly good enough to hold a World Cup event.