They can hurry up and cross this off their lists

Cologna makes Nordic history for Switzerland

Dario Cologna takes a moment to soak in the moment provided by winning the 15k freestyle. Dario Cologna takes a moment to soak in the moment provided by winning the 15k freestyle. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
By Arnie Stapleton
Associated Press / February 16, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Watching countryman Didier Defago win the gold medal in the Olympic downhill gave Swiss cross-country skier Dario Cologna the boost he needed.

“It pushed me a little bit,’’ he said.

Cologna won the men’s 15-kilometer race yesterday, Switzerland’s first Olympic gold medal in a cross-country ski race. His victory came 48 hours after Swiss ski jumper Simon Ammann captured the first gold of the Vancouver Games.

Cologna collapsed after completing the course in 33 minutes 36.3 seconds yesterday, then stayed down for several seconds while catching his breath and soaking it all in.

“It was an incredible race for me,’’ Cologna said. “I had a very good feeling from the start. I am so happy. I didn’t believe that I could win the 15K.’’

The Swiss already have three gold medals, more than any other country.

“It’s incredible,’’ he said. “I think I have to have a big party this evening. It is difficult to realize that you are an Olympic champion - it was my first Olympic race.’’

Italy’s Pietro Piller Cottrer won the silver, finishing 24.6 seconds behind Cologna for his fourth Olympic medal. The Czech Republic’s Lukas Bauer won the bronze to go with the silver medal he won in the 15-kilometer classical race in Turin.

Bauer had been expected to contend for gold with World Cup leader Petter Northug, the best skier from Norway since the great Bjoern Daehlie.

Although Bauer settled for bronze, Northug finished in 41st place after realizing he wasn’t going to challenge and coasting through the course at Whistler Olympic Park, much to the disappointment of his fans and to the dismay of his competitors.

An angry Northug initially refused to speak to Norwegian reporters after the race, but he came back 20 minutes later to answer questions.

“My body felt fine, but since I realized I wouldn’t get a good result I obviously didn’t give my all on the last lap,’’ Northug said. “You can be sure I get angry after a race like that, and that I’m even more eager for revenge.’’

Northug is still expected to dominate in Vancouver, but the interval start yesterday meant he couldn’t use the ferocious sprinting ability that lets him dominate mass-start events.

Because the 24-year-old Norwegian is likely to compete in all six events here - including the sprints - he had the luxury of choosing to slow down and save his energy for future races once he realized a podium spot was out of reach.

The quartet of Americans came in behind Northug, led by Anchorage’s James Southam (48th, 35:58.2). Garrott Kuzzy of Minneapolis finished 58th (36:41.5), Kris Freeman of Andover, N.H., was 59th (36:41.6), and Simeon Hamilton of Aspen, Colo., was 64th (37:30.5).