PYEONGCHANG, February 11, 2018 - From surviving an early crash to posting an incredible final lap, Norway's Simen Hegstad Krueger produced a career-high performance at the Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre to clinch gold in the Men's 30 km Skiathlon on Sunday in what was to be a Norwegian podium sweep.
Krueger, a first-time Olympian, crossed the finish line in 1:16:20, and has never had it this good in the course of his professional cross-country career. Last December he achieved a first individual World Cup win with the fastest time in the Menís 15 km freestyle.
"It's my first ever Olympic race that started in the worst possible way but I just had to try to stay calm and use some time to catch up," Krueger told journalists afterwards.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Hans Christer Holund finished second and third respectively to complete a clean medal sweep for Norway in what was a highly competitive race.
"We have a really clear team tactics," Sundby explained at the press conference. "If one of us gets seconds from the rest of the pack, others for sure cannot try to catch him.
"So me and Christer were waiting for Alex, Dario, Maurice, everybody else to try to catch Simen. Both of us were a bit surprised that nobody truly tried and at one point Simen had like 20 seconds.
"Then we felt that the gap was big enough for us to go for our own chances for the medals and we also felt that the others were tired and we could really go past them if we tried to and we succeeded in that tactics.
"We also wanted to go for the gold for sure but our team tactics was great today and it's just amazing that we really pulled this off," Sundby concluded.
Krueger was seeded 7th at the start of the event and he was slow to recover from a crash that involved after Andrey Larkov and Denis Spitsov. Larkov skied into the unfortunate Krueger, Spitsov then crashed into the duo.
That left Krueger in 67th position at 0.88km, but, in spite of the winds that blew loudly, his progress was meteoric and once he clinged to first position after an hour at 24.75km he did not let go until the end.
This is how Krueger described the moment he fell: "Well, I thought it was all over. I got two guys over me and I knew it was a long race and it often slowed down a bit after some laps but the pace was high there in the front and I didn't manage to catch up before the skating part."
But this was the turning point for the 24-year-old. "I was really tired after the classic but as soon as I changed skis suddenly my legs felt great again and I knew that now all possibilities are open again and I just tried to start fresh," said the Norwegian.
Bronze medalist Holund told journalists why his compatriot deserves the gold medal.
"It shows that Simen is a really strong guy not just physical also mental and I think we should give credit to Simen that he was actually daring to break loose on the last lap I don't think many people would have the confidence to do that and that's why he deserves that gold medal."
21-year-old Spitsov, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, was also very impressive in his recovery as he just missed out on a podium place, finishing fourth in his Olympic debut.
Finland's Iivo Niskanen, who led the race in the first 9.76km, started losing steam afterwards and eventually ended up in 19th place. Meanwhile defending champion, Switzerland's Dario Cologna, finished sixth.