The Russian team of Baranova, Tcheopalova, Medvedeva and Kurkina claim gold in Saturday's 4x5km Olympic relay. Baranova and Kurkina seemed to struggle in the classic legs, but they held on just long enough so that skaters Tchepalova and Medvedeva could inflict the decisive damage. Medvedeva had a superb final leg, taking it to the line for gold.
The Canadian team's bright spot was Sara Renner's skiing on the second leg. But overall they likely were hoping for better than their 10th place finish. The American team of Wendy Wagner, Kikkan Randall, Sarah Konrad, and Rebecca Dussault finished 14th. Konrad had a strong third leg for the Americans.
The weather for the women's relay was slightly better than the blizzard that hit the men's 15K classic yesterday, but it still proved to be challenging for the wax technicians.
On the first classic leg, Finnish skier Aino Kaisa Saarinen pushed the pace, hoping to break up the field. But it was unsuccessful as 10 teams remained close on the scramble leg. Russian Natalia Baranova was up at the front with Kristin Steira of Norway and Anna Dahlberg of Sweden, among many others. Coming into the stadium, Saarinen and Steira had opened a small gap, but Japan's Nobuko Fukuda surprised everyone by charging past near the end to hand off in first place.
American Wendy Wagner came in 14th place, about 40 seconds behind. The Canadian team had hopes of staying with the leaders, but Milaine Theriault couldn't hang on and drifted back to 16th by the time she handed off to Sara Renner.
Renner made an impressive run on the second classic lap, posting probably the fastest time on that lap as she closed to within 18 seconds of the leaders. The pace up front remained strong, however, as Viola Bauer (GER), Virpi Kuitunen (FIN), Hilde Pedersen (NOR), and Elin Ek (SWE) moved to the head of the lead group. Japan's day quickly went downhill after the first lap when second leg skier Masako Ishida fell and lost contact with the leaders.
Early in the third lap, Britta Norgren of Sweden stormed through the pack and took the lead. Julia Tchepalova of Russia also took a pull on the front which seemed to take its toll on Italy, France, and Norway. Tchepalova and Lassila were setting a mean pace up the major climbs near the end of the 5K loop when Evi Sachenbacher of Germany turned on the turbochargers and blasted past. By the end of her lap, Germany had a 12 second lead on the pursuers: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Italy.
Claudia Kuenzel tried desperately to maintain her lead for Germany but was reeled in with a couple K to go. Again the decisive move came on the big hills in the final kilometers. Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva- Abruzova, the pursuit bronze medalist, simply turned it up to a level that the others could not match. She skied away and left Italy and Sweden to fight for silver. Marit Bjoergen, who is clearly not in her top form, wilted. Kuenzel, spent from trying to hold her lead, also drifted off the back, but she had just enough energy left for a surprising finishing kick, which took her past both Sweden and Italy for the silver medal. The home country of Italy did hold on for a crowd-pleasing bronze medal.
Beckie Scott skied the anchor leg for Canada and moved them up from 12th to 10th. Sarah Konrad had moved the US team up to 14th on the third leg, and Rebecca Dussault held that position to the finish.
Full Results: http://www.nbcolympics.com/results/1500987/detail.html