RAMSAU, Austria -- It took a long time for Bjarte Engen Vik to reach the top of his sport. It might take as long to get him down.
Vik followed up his Olympic gold medal one year ago in Nagano by winning the opening event of the Nordic combined Saturday at the Nordic Ski World Championship.
Fourth after the ski jumping portion and starting the 15-kilometer cross-country race with a 30-second deficit, Vik quickly caught up with his young rival, Samppa Lajunen, and then used a late burst to win the gold medal with ease.
"It was my best cross-country race ever," Vik said. "I am very glad that I succeeded on the first day because it means I will get stronger later in the week."
Nordic combined used to be a two-day event but has been suppressed into one day to increase the event's marketability. Another event has been added, the so-called sprint that combines the results of ski jumping with a 7.5K cross-country race, while the team competition has been retained.
"It was tough, there wasn't much time to rest," Vik said.
The 27-year-old Norwegian has been dominating the World Cup circuit, with seven victories this season keeping him on course to retain the title he won last season.
After the Olympic gold, Vik has now added the other major title missing from his collection.
So, is he bored now with all the victories, Vik was asked.
"No, I am really enjoying it because my successes have only come in the last two years," he said.
Progress was slow but steady in Vik's career. He won the bronze in his native Norway at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, then took the silver at the Nordic worlds in Trondheim, his hometown, in 1997.
In Nagano, he also paced Norway to the gold medal in the team event.
Vik leaped 95 and 86 meters for 231 points in the ski-jumping portion, which meant starting the cross-county race 30 seconds after Lajunen, a 19-year-old Finn.
"Normally, it would be too much of a deficit to catch Samppa." Vik said. "But I had very good skis."
Vik quickly caught up with Lajunen and the two stayed together until Vik made his move with about two kilometers to go. The Norwegian pushed ahead at a very fast pace in drizzling rain, quickly leaving Lajunen behind.
Vik clocked 37 minutes, 34.8 seconds for his victory, 34.5 seconds ahead of Lajunen, the Olympic silver medalist behind Vik last year in Nagano in both the individual and the team event.
Dmitry Sinitzyn of Russia, who had never placed better than fourth in a World Cup race, clinched the bronze medal, 1:52.9 behind Vik.
Lajunen, the overall World Cup overall winner two seasons ago, leaped 98 and 87 meters from the K90 hill to collect 236 points and hold a 15-second lead going into the race over two Russians, Sinitzyn and Alexei Fadeev.
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