Swedish men win cross country relay bronze

Mats Larsson, Johan Olsson, Anders Södergren and Mathias Fredriksson combined to win Sweden's first Olympic relay medal in 18 years in the mens cross country on Sunday.

But it was the home team, Italy, who claimed their third gold medal of the Winter Olympics, driven through mist and driving snow by a rapturous home crowd at Pragelato.

After a powerful solitary effort on the last leg, Cristian Zorzi took advantage of a 35 second cushion over his rivals to grab an Italian flag and gesture to the crowd before he crossed the line.

He capitalised on a five second lead built up by Pietro Piller Cottrer at the handover, after the pursuit bronze medallist broke away from the leading group on the third leg, closely followed by Sweden.

Germany took silver after World Cup leader Thomas Angerer beat Sweden’s Mathias Fredriksson in a sprint to the line, after a neck and neck battle up the final hill of the 4 x 10 km relay.

“I tried to push harder and harder in the downhill and for a while I was fast as Pietro Piller Cottrer, but I had some technical problems and he overtook me,” said Anders Södergren, who skied Sweden’s third leg.

But the honours went to Zorzi, currently 20th in the World Cup and potentially one of the weakest links for Italy, team silver medallists at Salt Lake City.

The Italian steadily powered away from his more prestigious rivals and built up a comfortable lead by the end of the final climb, finishing 16 seconds ahead despite his premature celebrations.

Södergren had said he sensed another medal was on its way for Sweden in the wake of their sprint title.

“We said that we had to win a medal so we could go down and watch the hockey this evening (Sweden-USA),” joked Södergren.

And colleague Johan Olsson expressed the team’s delight.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that I’m going to go home from the Olympics with a medal,” he said to SVT after the race.

However, fourth placed France said they had lodged an official protest against the bronze medal finishers after the race, claiming that the Swedes had cut across the track on their final handover.

Outgoing gold medallists and cross country powerhouse Norway fell out of contention, struggling through the fresh snow and hills at Pragelato to finish fifth, 1min 10secs behind.

Pursuit silver medallist Frode Estil was dejected after he fell 43 seconds behind during his third leg.

“Very, very disappointed. No shape, no condition, nothing works for me today.”

Norway, plagued by fitness and equipment problems, have yet to touch the top of the podium in the cross country at Turin 2006 despite a brace of other medals.