Estonians rack up the gold

  • 2006-02-22
  • From wire reports
TALLINN - Cross-country skiers Kristina Smigun and Andrus Veerpalu both claimed their second Olympic gold last week 's Smigun's double victory at the Turin Games 's bringing Estonia's medal count to three.

"We are a very small country, so it's a great day for the country," Veerpalu told the press.

On Feb. 16, Smigun made Winter Olympic history as the first Estonian to win two events, after a fantastic finish in the women's 10 kilometer event. The skier's speed and endurance left her spectators in awe. In the last 100 meters, she powered around the final turn and past the digital clock, which froze at 27 minutes and 51.4 seconds. Norwegian favorite Marit Bjoergen finished 21.3 seconds later to take silver 's the first Olympic medal of her career - and compatriot Hilde G. Pedersen placed third, which was also a personal best.

At the beginning of the course, which was almost all slush due to wet weather, Norway's Kristin Stormer Steira and Canada's Sara Renner set the pace. But it wasn't long before Smigun stole the attention. The Estonian picked up speed after the 6.2-kilometer mark, and kept a swift stride from there on.

Although Renner had a solid race, the last three kilometers of the course, with two tough climbs, proved too much for the leader. As the young Canadian began to falter, Smigun gained new confidence.

The Estonian shifted gears to power up the final two hills with determination and strength. As she approached the final stretch, Smigun sailed past cheering fans, well ahead of her followers.

World Cup champion Bjoergen had struggled earlier in the week, falling short of a medal in the team sprint on Feb. 14. Therefore, her second-place finish in the 10-kilometer event was a boost of inspiration. Like Smigun, Bjoergen gave it her all in the last 100 meters, edging ahead of compatriot Pedersen.

One day later, Andrus Veerpalu defended his Olympic 15-kilometer classic title, bringing Estonia its third gold medal in the Turin games 's all in cross-country. The champion finished in 38 minutes and 1.3 seconds, to beat silver medalist Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic by 14.5 seconds. Germany's Tobias Angerer won his first individual Olympic medal with a bronze finish.

Veerpalu also won gold during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Smigun's first Olympic victory was this year in Turin, when she won the women's 15-kilometer pursuit on Feb. 12.