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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo grabbed the Norwegian flag as he headed for the finish line and gave it a big wave, knowing his country's 16-year gold medal drought in the men's 4x10-kilometer relay was coming to an end.
The red, blue and white flag has been a common sight at the podium at the Pyeongchang Games, particularly in cross-country where Norway is crushing the competition.
Norway has taken home five of eight possible gold medals awarded in cross-country, and 11 medals overall in the sport. The record for most cross-country medals in a single Olympic Games is 13, set by the Soviet Union in Calgary in 1988.
With four events remaining, that record may fall.
"It's going well," said Norwegian coach Tor Arne Hetland. "It's the national sport in Norway, so of course it is an important sport for us."
The team of Didrik Toenseth, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Simen Hegstad Krueger and Klaebo won the race in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 4.9 seconds finishing nearly 10 seconds ahead of the Russians, who are still in search of their first Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang. France captured the bronze.
It was the first gold medal for Norway in this event since 2002, a sore spot for the proud nation in its best winter sport.
"It was time," Hetland said with a wide smile.
Hetland said the relay is the most important event in cross-country for the Norwegians.
"In the individual races you are skiing for yourself," Hetland said. "In the relay you are skiing for the team, for the older skiers and the whole country."
Klaebo could be the best men's cross-country skier in a long time for Norway.
He appeared to be toying with Russian Denis Spitsov for the better part of the final leg. Then, with 1 ½ kilometers remaining, Klaebo easily slipped past Spitsov on the inside and cruised to a win.
"I felt strong,' Klaebo said. "Also in the first round it felt quite strong and the skis were so good so then I knew that I would attack at that moment in the last round."
Krueger was the sparkplug for the Norwegian team. He battled back from 24.5 seconds down at the midway point of the race to take the lead.
Klaebo took it from there.
He spent his first two laps behind Spitsov, mostly conserving energy. Then he decided to make his move, shifting to another gear entirely and speeding by the Russian. In a span of seconds, he'd built more than a 30-meter lead.
Hetland said when he saw Klaebo's eyes as he entered the stadium he knew nobody was going to catch him.
"I saw how he played with (Spitsov) and it looked so easy, but I know that it's not so easy," Hetland said.
Klaebo, 21, and Krueger, 24, now have five medals between them, including four golds. Considering these are the first Olympics for both skiers, Hetland knows Norway's future is bright in cross-country.
"We will have a lot of fun with them in years to come," Hetland said.
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