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‘Super Dario’ pulls off 3-peat in cross-country 15K free

Dario Cologna, of Switzerland, celebrates after winning the the gold medal in the men’s 15km freestyle cross-country skiing competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press)
By Steve Reed Associated Press

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Switzerland’s Dario Cologna has solidified his legacy as one of the best distance cross-country skiers of all time.

Cologna, known throughout his sport as “Super Dario,” became the first cross-country skier to win three Olympic gold medals in the same event, capturing the 15-kilometer freestyle in dominating fashion Friday. He also won this race in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014.

“It takes a lot of effort to just to win one gold medal,” Cologna said. “To write a little bit of history feels pretty good.”

Cologna’s three-peat gave Switzerland its first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games.

It may have been his fourth career gold medal overall, but this one was special for him.

His family was there to cheer him on, and he broke down in tears after the race knowing the win pulled him even with ski jumper Simon Ammann and artistic gymnast Georges Miez for the most gold medals in his country’s history.

“That’s not too bad,” Cologna said.

Cologna said he felt good from the beginning.

He dominated on the inclines, stomping up the hill like a machine to win the race in 33 minutes, 43.9 seconds, more than 18 seconds ahead of Simen Hegstad Krueger of Norway. Krueger took silver to give the Norwegian men their first medal in this event since 2002.

Russian Denis Spitsov earned bronze.

“Dario was in another league today,” Krueger said. “He was amazingly strong. To take a silver medal is a victory for me.”

Canada’s Alex Harvey called Cologna’s win super-impressive, saying “he’s got a huge engine and a cool head.”

“He’s been dominating this year,” Harvey said. “I’m really happy for him. He’s a great guy. It’s good to see non-Scandinavian countries on the top of the podium. So it’s good for the sport I think.”

Krueger left happy, as well.

It was his second medal of the Pyeongchang Games. He also captured gold in the 30-kilometer skiathlon.

“It is a bit unreal,” Krueger said. “The whole (Olympic Games) has been a dream. I had a small hope to maybe take a medal but then standing here with one gold and one silver medal out of two competitions is, what can I say, it is unbelievable.”

French hopeful Maurice Manificat wasn’t having that same feeling.

He was expected to medal in the event but finished fifth, one spot behind Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby.

“I feel deeply, deeply sad,” Manificat said. “I gave all I had and you know it was my goal. Maybe I will have no more chances (for a gold medal) in individual races in my career.”

Pita Taufatofua, perhaps best known as the oiled-up, shirtless flag bearer from Tonga, finished in 114th place.

He said the hardest part was keeping the pace.

“The 15-kilometer doesn’t work so well for me – I always gas out by about the second kilometer,” Taufatofua said with a laugh.