Skiing: Russian women maintain dominance

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RUSSIA COMPLETED a decade unbeaten in women's cross-country 4x5 kilometre relay in major competitions when their quartet stormed to victory at the Nordic World Championships yesterday.

It was Russia's first success in an otherwise disappointing championships after dominating Nordic events in the 1990s. While Russia's win was expected, the day's other action featured a surprise as Finland edged out favourites Norway to snatch the Nordic combined.

The Finnish team beat the Norwegians by 1min 14.7sec on the first sunny day in Ramsau, which for the past six days had been affected by snowstorms and avalanche warnings.

Going into the championships the Russian women had claimed every gold medal on offer at both the last two Olympics and world championships. Since the 4x5km relay became part of championship programme in 1972, Russians have snapped up 13 out of 18 Olympic and world gold medals.

Their domination of the race in the 1990s has been even more complete, sweeping the five world championship and three Olympic titles on offer this decade. Yesterday, the Russians, led off by double Olympic gold medallist Olga Danilova, shot to the front and were never challenged. Extending her lead with every stride, the 32-year-old handed on a 30-second advantage to Larissa Lazutina, who piled on another 30 seconds before giving way to Anfisa Reztsova, who continued to add to the advantage, handing over 90 seconds to anchor Nina Gavriljuk, who coasted across the finish line, waving the Russian flag in 53min 05.9sec.

"Obviously we were the favourites to win this event." said Lazutina. "But we were able to deal with the pressure."

Italy, after a brilliant anchor leg by Stefania Belmondo, crossed 1:24.5 adrift to take the silver while Germany were surprise bronze medallists finishing a further 2:7.8 back on the winners.

Finland's victory in the Nordic team combined was set up in the morning's ski jumping as the runners-up to Norway at both the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 1997 Trondheim world championships took the lead and held on in the cross-country. Bronze went to Russia.