Alsgaard emerges from Dӕhlie's shadow

Picture by Getty

If there was one cross-country skier in Nagano who could beat the legendary Bjørn Dӕhlie in a straight fight it was his compatriot Thomas Alsgaard. The two team-mates had won a silver medal together in Lillehammer as part of the 4x10km relay team, and the two even lived on the same street.

Alsgaard had already beaten Dӕhlie to gold in the 30km in Lillehammer, so he knew he could get the better of him. He couldn't in the 30km, where, surprisingly, neither man came near to winning a medal. Then, in the 10km, Dӕhlie won with Alsgaard placing just fifth. In the 50km, Dӕhlie took another gold, with Alsgaard again finishing out of the medals.

That left just the pursuit, which was run over two days. Once more it was expected to be a stroll to victory for the world's most famous cross-country skier.

After the classical component of the event, Dӕhlie led the field by eight seconds. Alsgaard was a further 16 seconds back, but he then produced a quite stellar performance to catch his rival halfway through the 15km freestyle. He then hung on his shoulder, allowing Dӕhlie to face the elements while he conserved some energy. They stayed like that for 20 minutes until, with just about 200m to go, Alsgaard emerged from the shadow of his rival to start a sprint for the line.

The two men matched each other stride for stride until the line was almost upon them. But then Alsgaard opened up a sliver of a lead that he managed to hold into the finish. He had finally beaten his great rival.

Alsgaard delivered another superb effort in the relay as he skied the anchor leg. His tactics were familiar to anyone who had seen the pursuit – he sat just behind Italy's Silvio Fauner until the very closing minutes, and once more produced a decisive sprint to the line. Two bursts of acceleration – two gold medals!

Four years later, Alsgaard won further gold medals in the pursuit and relay races, ending his career with five Olympic golds and a silver.