Midway, Utah Feb. 12, 2002 (AP by Landon Hall)--Estonia won its first Winter Olympic medals Tuesday, as Andrus Veerpalu took the gold and Jaak Mae the bronze in the men's 15-kilometer classic-style cross-country race.
Veerpalu crossed the finish line at Soldier Hollow in 37 minutes, 7.4 seconds, 36 seconds ahead of silver medalist Frode Estil of Norway. Mae was 43.4 seconds back.
American John Bauer finished 12th, the best U.S. cross-country showing since Bill Koch won the silver in a 30K race at the 1976 Innsbruck Games. Among the other Americans, Patrick Weaver was 16th and Kris Freeman--who is diabetic--was 22nd. Lars Flora was 54th.
After a slow start, Veerpalu put the race away and then the only drama was for second. At the 7.2K mark, Estil came around the bend and glided down the short hill to take over second place. That still left him 7.7 seconds behind.
By the 11.5K point, Veerpalu had increased his lead over Estil to nearly 23 seconds, and Veerpalu cruised to the victory.
The Norwegians were expecting to dominate in the classic-style events at these games, but they have just one medal in two races. They were shut out of the podium in Saturday's 30K race.
Anders Aukland, who rose from 22nd in the world rankings last year to second entering the Olympics, finished fourth, just over a minute off the pace.
Per Elofsson, who was supposed to capture multiple golds in these games after training in a high-altitude chamber in his native Sweden, did better than his previous race but still finished a disappointing fifth. Worn out by the highest course in the world, he dropped out of Saturday's 30K, saying he wanted to conserve energy.
Veerpalu and Mae were primed for success this season: Veerpalu won the 30K classical at World Cup event in Finland last year, and Mae--competing in his second Olympics--came in ranked third in the world.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press