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Russia’s Danilova Wins First Gold

February 8, 1998

HAKUBA, Japan (AP) _ Russia’s Olga Danilova won the first gold medal of the Winter Olympics Sunday when she beat countrywoman Larissa Lazutina and shrugged off a big Norwegian challenge to win the women’s 15-kilometer classical cross-country race.

Danilova, who had little impact during her only previous Olympic appearance at Albertville six years ago, trailed favored Lazutina by 2.8 seconds just after the midway point at 8.5 kilometers and gradually cut her lead to a half second by the 13.8-kilometer mark.

Although both skiers had plenty of strength left for a fast finish, Danilova had the power to clinch the gold.

She completed the distance in 46 minutes 55.4 seconds with Lazutina, who won relay golds at the last two Olympics, 5.6 seconds slower.

The fastest American, Kerrin Petty of Townshend, Vt., finished 43rd, about 5 minutes, 50 seconds behind the winner.

Anita Moen-Guidon was the first Norwegian home in 47:52.6, 57.2 seconds behind the winner but took the bronze medal ahead of Irina Tarenenko Terelia of Ukraine, who clocked 48:10.2.

World Cup leader Bente Martinsen, expected to be the leading Norwegian challenger, finished 1 minute, 19 seconds behind the winner and never looked getting close to a medal.

Martinsen, whose father won Olympic gold and silver medals at Grenoble 30 years ago, tied for sixth with countrywoman Trude Dybendahl Hartz, who both were behind another Norwegian, Marit Mikkelsplass, who had 48:12.5.

Stefania Belmondo, the 1992 30K gold medalist who also was considered a leading contender for this race, also struggled throughout. The 103-pound Italian was a minute behind the leaders soon after halfway at 8.5 kilometers, and her final time was 48:57.7, more than two minutes slower than the winner in eighth place.

Yelena Vaelbe of Russia, another favorite, finished in 17th place, 2 1/2 minutes behind Danilova.

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