Originally created 02/16/02

Bronze a late Valentine's gift from Canada's Scott



MIDWAY, Utah -- Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott and her American boyfriend, Justin Wadsworth, didn't have much of a Valentine's Day.

Since the Winter Olympics began, Wadsworth has had a bad cold that ruined his first two races, and for most of this week he and Scott stayed far apart so she wouldn't get sick. On Thursday, he was well enough to get close and give her a heart-shaped container of M&M's. She forgot to get him anything, though. Too focused on her next race.

On Friday, Scott made up for it by giving her beau - and all of Canada - a bronze medal in the women's 5K pursuit, her country's first medal in Nordic skiing.

"I'm still on a cloud," she said. "I'm just so excited. It's fantastic."

The Russians took the gold and silver in the fast-paced two-part event, as Olga Danilova held off Larissa Lazutina by 6.9 seconds in the 5-kilometer freestyle race at Soldier Hollow.

Nina Kemppel was the top American, finishing 27th after moving up five spots from the first portion, a 5-kilometer classical-style race. Wendy Wagner was 50th.

Scott, who started sixth, fought past Russian Katerina Neumannova to take third by just one-tenth of a second. At the finish, Scott and Wadsworth hugged and wept, overcome by emotion at the culmination of years' worth of dedication - to each other and their sport.

"We're a team. We're an absolute team," Scott said. "It chokes me up, because I think this medal is as much his as it is mine."

The medal not only made history for Canada, it was the first by North American athlete since U.S. skier Bill Koch won the silver in a 30-kilometer race in 1976.

"I grew up idolizing Bill Koch," Wadsworth said. "His legacy is tremendous. (Scott's race) will be like that for the 21st century. Everybody's going to be talking about the medal. This is the biggest result of the whole Olympics."

Canada's previous best Olympic showing in the sport was seventh, in 1976 by the women's relay team. Scott's personal best was a 45th place in Nagano, after which she and her teammates "decided we were not going to be mediocre anymore."

Scott said she hopes her medal prompts other Canadians to take up the sport, much like Koch - who introduced the "skating" technique of freestyle to the Olympics - inspired her and others from the continent to put on skis.

"It's just so important for all the kids coming up," Scott said. "North America hasn't traditionally had success on an international scale. It's critical for our sport."

Wadsworth and Scott met during a World Cup event in Devos, Switzerland, six years ago. Although he lived in Bend, Ore., and she lived in Canmore, Alberta, they started dating in 1997.

They bought a house together in Bend the following year, and plan to get married sometime after the Olympics.

"It's as much a love story as there is," Wadsworth said. "When you share something like this - training together, living together, traveling together, it's just unbelievable."

While Scott was ready for a strong performance here, Wadsworth has watched his hopes disappear in a fog of nasal decongestant.

Two days before Saturday's opening race, he woke up with a sore throat. He dragged himself out to the 30 kilometer, but had to quit, then he skipped Tuesday's 15 kilometer.

He stuck around to watch Scott's 10-kilometer race, and she finished a surprising sixth. Although he was under a self-imposed 100-foot quarantine, he couldn't help himself.

"We were so excited after that race that I gave her a big hug and kiss," he said. "We looked at each other almost in shock. I said, 'I hope I didn't just get you sick.' And she said, 'Me, too."'

Scott knew from racing here last year that the final uphill slope on the 5K course, Horseshoe Hill, presented a great opportunity to pass. With Danilova and Lazutina already guaranteed the top two spots up ahead, she made her move, emerged from the pack and just edged Neumannova.

"It took some digging deep," she said. "I had nothing left to give when I crossed the finish line."

Danilova had the fastest time in the early 5-kilometer race, but Lazutina was only two-tenths of a second behind, and she was considered the better freestyle skier. Still, Danilova stayed close. She regained the lead about 8 1/2 minutes into the race and didn't trail again.

"I realized I had to be able to save my energy for the second race, but then I decided to risk it," said Danilova, who won her second career Olympic gold.

Lazutina has two silvers at these games and nine medals overall, one short of the Olympic cross-country record held by Russia's Raisa Smetanina.