February 19, 2006

Italy take relay gold

By Gideon Long

PRAGELATO, Italy (Reuters) - Italy won their first
cross-country skiing gold medal of the Turin Winter Olympics on
Sunday when their men triumphed in the 4x10-km relay.

Pietro Piller Cottrer set up their victory with a fine
third leg in driving snow in the Italian Alps before Cristian
Zorzi guided them home in front of thousands of jubilant home
fans waving red, white and green tricolours.

Germany took the silver, just 0.3 seconds ahead of Sweden,
who made the podium for the first time in this event since

Defending Olympic and world champions Norway trailed in
fifth to compound their dismal performances in cross-country at
these Olympics. They are still awaiting their first gold medal
in either the men's or women's events.

Austria, whose team members were subjected to doping tests
late on Saturday following a raid on their house, were lapped
and were the only team of the 16 not to finish the race.

The gold medal, Italy's third of the Games after their
successes in luge and speed-skating, sparked wild celebrations
in Pragelato, 50 miles west of Turin.

Their margin of victory was so wide that when Zorzi entered
the stadium he had time to skate over to the stands and grab an
Italian flag from a fan.

He bore it aloft and held his finger to his lips as he
crossed the finish line to seal only Italy's second victory in
this event since it was first staged at the Olympics in 1936.


Piller Cottrer's gold medal followed his bronze in the
30-km pursuit a week ago while Fulvio Valbusa, who skied the
first leg, claimed his gold just a day after his younger sister
Sabina won a bronze in the women's relay.

Giorgio di Centa, who skied the second leg, now has a gold
medal to go with the two won by his sister Manuela at past
editions of the Winter Olympics.

The Germans' silver matched that won by their women on
Saturday and was their best result in this event, which has
been staged 17 times at the Games.

Their only other previous appearance on the podium was in
Salt Lake City four years ago, when they won bronze.

Sweden's bronze was their third cross-country medal of the
Games following their double victory in the men's and women's
team sprint races on Tuesday.

But the Norwegians were once again trounced.

They have won 30 gold medals in cross-skiing at the Winter
Olympics since 1924 -- more than any other nation apart from
the combined Russian/Soviet teams.

But they have yet to win one here and now have only four
races left in which to do so.