Finland’s Heikkinen wins 15K cross-country in Oslo

Posted March 01, 2011, at 5:01 p.m.
Last modified March 01, 2011, at 11:25 p.m.

OSLO, Norway — Matti Heikkinen won the first gold medal for Finland at the Nordic skiing world championships, holding off two Norwegians on Tuesday in the 15-kilometer classical-style race.

Heikkinen finished in 38 minutes, 14.7 seconds for his first world title after taking the bronze in the same event two years ago in Liberec, Czech Republic.

“I started to ski when I was 9,” Heikkinen said. “I’ve had lots of bad days, lots of good days. But today was perfect.”

Eldar Roenning was 13.3 seconds behind and Martin Johnsrud Sundby was third, 31.9 seconds back. Sprint champion Marcus Hellner of Sweden finished in 34th place. Norway’s Petter Northug, winner of the 30-kilometer pursuit, skipped the race to rest for other events.

A large crowd of mainly Norwegians urged on Heikkinen as he approached the line, appreciating his relentless work in defeating two local favorites.

“It’s nice to see that cross-country skiers in Norway are like ice hockey players in Finland,” Heikkinen said.

The exhausted Finn barely reacted after the race, in contrast to the two Norwegian medalists.

“For me there is a black moment for some minutes after a race, but this evening will be special,” Heikkinen said.

He said he hoped his victory would help lift the cloud that has shadowed Finnish cross-country for a decade. Six team members tested positive for banned substances in 2001 at the worlds in Lahti, Finland.

“I have nothing to do with these things,” Heikkinen said. “It’s time to take a big step forward and concentrate on what is happening now and in the future.”

Norway stretched its lead in the medal standings after 11 of 21 events. The host nation’s skiers, spurred by the massive crowds at Holmenkollen, have 10 medals to Austria’s six and Germany’s four.

“The crowd just did an amazing job cheering me toward this medal,” Johnsrud Sundby said.

On Wednesday, Nordic combined athletes take on Holmenkollen’s landmark large hill. The men’s and women’s cross-country skiers compete in team sprint relays.

The championships run through March 6.

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