No doubt about it – Dario Cologna is back.
The Swiss cross-country skier and 2010 Olympic champion in the 15km freestyle tore a ligament in his right ankle back in November, and observers had wondered if he would be competitive at the Sochi Olympics.
But in this morning’s men’s skiathlon, Cologna proved more than competitive. He was the best, charging late past Sweden’s Marcus Hellner and holding him off for gold by four-tenths of a second.
Bronze medalist Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway was 1.4 seconds back, narrowly beating Russia’s Maksim Vylegzhanin at the stripe for the last spot on the podium.
According to NBC Olympics’ Olivia Wittels, the Russians lodged a protest regarding Vylegzhanin’s finish that ultimately went nowhere.
Noah Hoffman of the U.S. rose into the Top 10 during the early stages of the race, but fell back to 35th at the finish after a series of mid-race problems that included a fall and a run-in with another competitor. It was still the top finish among the Americans.
Also fading, albeit more dramatically, was two-time Olympic gold medalist Petter Northug of Norway, who was running in the Top 5 with two kilometers to go but came home 17th.
MEN’S SKIATHLON (15km Classic/15km Free)
1. Dario Cologna (SUI), 1:08:15.4
2. Marcus Hellner (SWE), +0.4 seconds
3. Martin Johnsrud Sundby (NOR), +1.4 seconds
35. Noah Hoffman (USA), +3:12.7
42. Erik Bjornsen (USA), +4:26.9
47. Brian Gregg (USA), +5:10.9
54. Kris Freeman (USA), +6:19.2