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2010 Winter Olympics: Norway wins women's cross-country relay

Norways's Marit Bjoergen celebrates as she crosses the finish line to take the gold medal for Norway's women's 4x5 km cross country relay at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Thursday.
Norways's Marit Bjoergen celebrates as she crosses the finish line to take the gold medal for Norway's women's 4x5 km cross country relay at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Thursday.
Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Norway won the women's cross-country relay Thursday after Marit Bjoergen quickly decided the race on the final leg for her third gold medal of the Vancouver Olympics.

Bjoergen and Italy's Sabina Valbusa went out together at the final exchange, but the Norwegian immediately pulled away from her only remaining rival and skied alone the rest of the way.

Entering the ski stadium with a massive lead, she had enough time to veer to the side to pick up a Norwegian flag and then ski down the final straight using just one pole. She did a small jump over the finish line before being mobbed by her teammates.

The Norwegian team of Vibeke Skofterud, Therese Johaug, Kristin Stoermer Steira and Bjoergen finished the 4x5-kilometer race in 55 minutes, 19.5 seconds.

Germany was second after Claudia Nystad beat Finland's Aino-Kaisa Saarinen in a two-way race for the silver. Finland took the bronze and Italy was fourth after Valbusa faded.

Bjoergen became the first triple gold winner in Vancouver after also winning the individual sprint and 30K pursuit. She's also the first to earn four medals overall.

This time, she can thank one of her main rivals for helping the Norwegians out.

World Cup leader Justyna Kowalczyk skied the second leg for an otherwise weak Polish team and quickly climbed from 10th to first, pulling the field apart with her furious pace as Germany and France both fell behind by nearly 30 seconds. Norway's Johaug and Italy's Marianna Longa were the only two who managed to stay in contact with the World Cup leader. Their replacements, Steira and Silvia Rupil, quickly pulled away from Poland's Paulina Maciuszek to make it a two-way race.

Although Rupil stayed with Steira until the final exchange, Valbusa could do nothing about Bjoergen.

The Norwegian pulled away from the start and had an 11-second lead midway through her first lap. That margin only grew as Germany ended up 24.6 seconds back, with Finland 30.4 behind.