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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'World Citizen' Wins in Fitting End to Games

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- King Harald V was ready to award the last individual gold medal to the winner of the most prestigious event in Norway's pastime, as long as he was Norwegian.


So blame it on Bjorn Daehlie or Vegard Ulvang that the unprecedented occasion did not occur. Better yet, credit Vladimir Smirnov with preventing the home team from dominating the 50-kilometer cross-country race, the one most revealing of the Norwegian soul. Perhaps it was fitting that Norway, which gained so many medals and so many friends during a commercially and aesthetically successful Olympics, yielded the last great honor to a man who calls himself "a citizen of the world."


The Norwegian people not only welcomed visitors to their country but also to their finish lines. Nowhere was their hospitality more evident than in Birkebeineren Ski Stadium yesterday where they saluted Vladimir Smirnov, the grand victor in a sport they revere.


Smirnov resides in Sweden, in the town of Sundsvall, with his wife and daughter, 6. But he grew up in north Kazakhstan of Russian parents and competed in the Olympics for the Soviet Union in 1988, for the Commonwealth of Independent States' Unified Team in 1992 and now for his place of birth.


Closer than any political connection, however, he is identified with his sport. The man won the overall World Cup championship in 1991 and holds a large lead over Daehlie in this year's standings. At 29, he ranks among the great cross-country skiers in history but, until Sunday, there was a major gap in his resum?. Like Jansen, a year younger, he was without a gold medal as he approached his final Olympic race.


Nor was he particularly confident. The 50K, a skier's marathon, hardly is his best event. Traditionally, the man had cramped and tired in the final 10 kilometers. Not Sunday. "I expected problems but after 40K I had none," he said, smiling broadly. "That was a pleasant surprise. And the biggest surprise of all is that I got the gold medal."


Nor was he seriously challenged. Smirnov finished the course in 2:07:20.3, more than a minute and 20 seconds ahead of Mika Myllylae of Finland, another surprise medalist, and Norwegian, Sture Sivertsen, who snatched the bronze medal with a time of 2:08:49.0.