Originally created 02/15/02

Spain's Muehlegg wins second gold medal



MIDWAY, Utah -- Johann Muehlegg's right ski plowed through the snow, throwing him off balance and into the snow. But not even a face-first fall could knock him off course Thursday.

Muehlegg dominated the men's cross-country pursuit event to win his second gold medal of the Winter Games. He also won the 30K freestyle race Saturday.

Norwegians Thomas Alsgaard and Frode Estil tied for the silver medal. Alsgaard lunged his left ski forward at the finish line to create the tie before falling to the ground. They waited several minutes before getting the official decision.

The event had little drama otherwise.

Muehlegg, a German-born skier who sought and attained Spanish citizenship after a 1998 dispute with the German ski federation, covered the entire 20K event in 49 minutes, 20.4 seconds - 28.5 seconds faster than the Norwegians.

"I'm not the fastest skier or the best sprinter. But I have a good motor," Muehlegg said.

His competitors might disagree. About all they've seen of Muehlegg in two races are the backs of his skis. He also won the 30K freestyle in commanding fashion, beating his nearest competitor by more than two minutes.

Muehlegg was so far in front Thursday that he slowed down to grab a Spanish flag, carried it in his right hand for the final 100 meters and waved it as he crossed the finish line.

"I thought, 'Now it's finished; they cannot catch me,"' he said.

Within minutes of Muehlegg's second victory, King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar called to congratulate him, he said. Muehlegg expected the calls to be the start of many distractions as he prepares for the 50K classical event Feb. 23.

"I got two and a half hours sleep after the last medal," said Muehlegg, who has half of Spain's four all-time medals in the Winter Games. "For me, it's not easy."

In the pursuit event, athletes ski 10 kilometers using the classic technique that keeps them in narrow tracks, then they ski the same distance in freestyle, which uses shorter skis and resembles skating.

Both legs of the event were held on the same day for the first time in the Olympics.

Muehlegg took charge in each one. He won the 10K classic-style race and gave himself a 13-second lead to begin the second leg of the event - the 10K freestyle pursuit, where starting order is based on finish in the classic-style race.

The winner is the first to cross the finish.

There was little doubt it would be Muehlegg, who pulled away from the start - even after falling in the opening kilometer. He quickly got up, kept going and extended his lead to 50 seconds at the 5-kilometer mark.

"I knew I had a big lead, so it wasn't a problem," Muehlegg said.

Always-strong Norway, meanwhile, is still looking for its first men's cross-country gold medal in these games. The Norwegians captured four of the five cross-country gold medals at the Nagano Games.

"We knew we couldn't catch Muehlegg, so the race was on for the silver," said Estil, who also won silver in the 15K classical Tuesday.

Alsgaard started the race 36 seconds behind Estil but rallied for second with the fastest time in the 10K freestyle race. It is Alsgaard's fifth Olympic medal.

"I didn't even see him," Estil said. "I thought I had full control of the silver when I looked over and saw Thomas at the finish line. I'm just glad I didn't lose the silver."

World Cup champion Per Elofsson of Sweden finished fourth, keeping him off the medals platform for the third straight Olympics competition.

Americans Kris Freeman (15th), John Bauer (20th), Justin Wadsworth (44th) and Patrick Weaver (47th) were not factors.

"You must start really tough. I started out tough," Muehlegg said. "I wanted to go in front and take more seconds. That was my tactic. ... It's great. I'm really happy."