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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Bad Attitude' Carries Lazutina to Skiing Win

HAKUBA, Japan -- One year ago, Larissa Lazutina was a mental wreck, frustrated by a disappointing performance at the World Championship and unhappy with the Russian coach. She came close to quitting her career.

Instead, she left the Russian team and now she's an Olympic champion.

Lazutina finally won the Olympic gold that's been missing from her trophy collection, bursting from behind to clinch the women's 5K classical race Tuesday.

She clocked 17 minutes, 37.0 seconds to beat Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic by 4.8 seconds. Bente Martinsen of Norway took the bronze, 11.5 seconds behind.

The victory also meant vindication for the 32-year-old mother from Odintsovo, near Moscow, who won a silver in the opening 15K Sunday. After seeing her closest challengers fade in the home stretch in a snow storm, Lazutina buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.

"It's my bad attitude that's helped me win," she said.

Lazutina has spent her career trying to emerge from the shadows of Yelena Vaelbe, her more famous teammate.

Vaelbe, the most successful World Cup racer in history who swept all five gold medals at last year's worlds in Trondheim, Norway, has a history of bombing at the Olympics and this time it's beginning to look eerily similar. She was dropped from Russia's team for Tuesday's race after a 17th-place finish in the 15K.

The two women were never friends. Lazutina always felt Vaelbe was being favored by team officials, who in turn accused Lazutina of having a bad attitude.

After failing to win an individual medal at the Trondheim worlds, she was on the verge of quitting it all.

In the spring, she told Russian team managers that she could no longer practice with chief national coach Alexander Grushin, whose training methods she felt were designed to suit Vaelbe.

Russian officials agreed to give her a year to prove what she could do, and Lazutina was allowed to go her own way. She found a sponsor from the ranks of newly rich Russian corporate tycoons and hired a personal coach.

She's been smiling ever since.

"I was in a pitiful state after Trondheim. I had decided I didn't want to work anymore," Lazutina said. "But I was in great spirits this summer. I had great training and I believe this explains my good results."

Lazutina had never won an individual Olympic medal until Sunday's silver. She won golds with the Russian relay teams, however, at the 1992 and 1994 Olympics.

Tuesday's race was also the first leg of the pursuit competition, and Lazutina's triumph means she will have a five-second advantage in the second leg Thursday when the skiers return for a 10K freestyle race.