No one knew quite what to expect from Dario Cologna at these Olympics.
It did not take long for the Swiss cross-country skier to provide an emphatic answer.
Cologna won the men’s 30-kilometre skiathlon at the Sochi Games on Sunday with the strongest finish of any racer in the field, pulling away from his rivals at the top of the last uphill section before holding off defending champion Marcus Hellner of Sweden on the final straight.
It was quite an achievement for someone who had surgery in November to repair an ankle ligament and only returned to competition last month.
“It’s a very big day, and very emotional for me to come back and win a gold medal, my biggest thing I won so far,” said Cologna, who won gold in the 15-kilometre freestyle in Vancouver. “I said I hoped to be at my best again before the end of the Olympics, but it can’t get better than this.”
Cologna finished in one hour 8 minutes, 15.4 seconds. Hellner was 0.4 seconds behind to win silver.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway beat Russia’s Maxim Vylegzhanin in a tight sprint for the bronze that led to a protest from the Russian team. They argued the Norwegian had impeded his rival by crossing into his lane just before the finish line.
A jury upheld the results but gave Sundby a written reprimand, saying he had broken the rules but did not affect the results. The Russian team can still appeal the ruling to the International Ski Federation’s appeals committee.
Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., was the top Canadian, finishing 18th in 1:10:00.5. Ivan Babikov of Canmore, Alta., was 25th in 1:10:14.6, while Graeme Killick of Fort McMurray, Alta., placed 45th in 1:13:16.1.
“In the classical portion, it was over after the second leg,” Harvey said. “We had zero grip, and we were not very fast either.
“We lost 45 seconds in that portion, and we were pushing at 100 per cent, when the other guys in front were only pushing at 75 to 80 per cent.”
Sundby acknowledged he crossed into Vylegzhanin’s lane, but said he didn’t realize what had happened until after the finish.
“I feel bad about the whole episode,” Sundby said. “This was never, ever my intention. I didn’t know where I was. Luckily it didn’t influence the results. ... I feel really upset about it.”
Cologna is a three-time overall World Cup winner and the only Swiss cross-country skier to take home an Olympic gold. He is also the reigning world champion in the skiathlon, which mixes classical-style skiing with freestyle, but came to Sochi with low expectations following his injury.