It was a bright sunny day in Pragelato as the Olympic cros country competitions wound down with the mens 50 k mass start event. The favorites for this event were World Cup leader Tobias Angerer, Frenchman Vincent Vittoz, and home country favorite Pietro Piller Cottrer. But instead, it was a different member of the home team, Giorgio Di Centa, who collected his second gold medal of the games.
Giorgio di Centa thrilled the host country using an impressive sprint through the final stretch to separate from a big pack of skiers.
Di Centa finished in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 11.8 seconds, only eight-tenths of a second ahead of silver medalist Eugeni Dementiev of Russia — a wild ending to the longest and most grueling event in cross-country skiing, the 50km skate race.
It was a second gold medal for Di Centa, who was also was a member of Italy's winning foursome in the 4×10 relay Feb. 19.
Austria's Mikhail Botwinov took the bronze, a positive ending for the embattled Austrian cross-country skiers and biathletes who were subjects of a doping investigation by the Italian authorities and International Olympic Committee.
Andrew Johnson (Greensboro, VT) was the top American finisher in 34th in Sunday's cross country 50K in Pragelato. Italian Giorgio di Centa won the gold. Kris Freeman finished 61st, while Carl Swenson and James Southam did not finish.
The early stages of the race saw George Grey of Canada at the front of the pack for several kilometres and at the 30k mark the field still contaned a tightly bunched group with 50 skiers sepeated by only 12 seconds. The top bunch still included George Grey and Russian Canadian Ivan Babikov.
Zsolt Antal from Roumania had made a an attempt to breakaway from the top group between 15 and 20k, building up a 22 second lead before being reeled in by the pack. Chris Jeffries was 54th at 30k at 1.22 back and Dan Roycroft 62nd out of 82 starters 1.54 back.
About 40 skiers in the 82-man field were part of the leading pack by the midway point in the mass-start race. The top 20 skiers were within 7 seconds of each other heading into the final 10 kilometers.
As the skiers approached the 40k mark , the lead skers including Anders Soedergren of Sweden started pushing the pace a bit on some major uphills. George Grey fell a bit ff the pace with this surge, dropping to just over a minute back from the lead.
The pack then closed up again in the last 5k, with several competitors making breaks for brief moments, before the main pack of 25 or 30 skiers once again caught up.
On the last big uphills a top of 10 pack made a final push and headed into the stadium.
In the final sprint Georgio Di Centa powered to gold and Eugeni Dementiev of Russia made a final sprint, just like in the pursuit, to capture silver. Botvinov, of the Austrian team finishing 3rd. Emmanuel Jonnier of France finished 4th. The top 10 racers finished within 6 seconds of the lead.
Russian Canadian Ivan Babikov finished in 38th, and George Grey in 44th. Dan Roycroft and Chris Jeffries finished in 57th and 58th position.
Source: Cross Country Canada, Eurosport