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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Defied Odds, Coaches to Win Gold

NAGANO, Japan -- Only a few days before taking the gold in the 30-kilometer cross-country race -- the final event on the women's skiing program at the Winter Olympics in Nagano -- Russia's Yulia Tchepalova was totally heartbroken.

Why? Because the coaches had taken Tchepalova's name off Russia's powerful women's relay team in favor of a veteran skier.

"The coaches told me I'm too young, and I'll get another chance four years from now, but still I just couldn't stop crying that day," Tchepalova said. "But then I said to myself, 'The hell with that relay,' and began to prepare for the final race."

Last Friday, the 21-year-old rookie from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Far East surprised pre-race favorites, such as Larissa Lazutina, Yelena Vyalbe, and Italy's Stefania Belmondo, as well as the rest of the 69 skiers in the 30-kilometer field on a grueling marathon course in pouring rain. In fact, she even came from behind with a strong finish to claim her first Olympic title.

What is even more remarkable is that Tchepalova had to ski an extra 10 kilometers before the race to determine the last remaining spot on the 30-kilometer four-woman team roster.

"I thought I deserved the spot without having to go through the trial," Tchepalova said last Friday with the gold medal around her neck. "But the coaches decided otherwise, so I had to prove it once again."

And she did by topping the rest of the Russian squad by almost a minute in the 10-kilometer trial. As it turned out in the 30-kilometer race, Tchepalova was the only skier who challenged the heavily favored Belmondo, who badly wanted to finish her illustrious career with another gold.

By the halfway mark, Tchepalova was trailing the Italian by almost 40 seconds while the rest of the field lagged further behind.

"I would have been satisfied with a silver," she said. "But when I was going downhill at the finish, my father, who is also my coach, yelled that I was only nine seconds behind. 'You can do it,' he screamed at me. And I did it."

By winning the gold, Tchepalova assured that she belongs among the Russian elite. With veterans such as Lazutina and Vyalbe retiring from competition at the end of this season, the young star can claim the lead role among the Russians."

She [Tchepalova] is the next big star on our team," Lazutina said. "The future belongs to her."

By the look of the 30-kilometer final score sheet, the future has arrived.