KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Maiken Caspersen Falla led a Norwegian double to take gold in the women's cross-country freestyle sprint at the Sochi Olympics on Tuesday.
Despite pre-race favorite Marit Bjoergen going out in the semifinals, Norway still took the top two spots as Falla proved strongest in the final and Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg narrowly beat Vesna Fabjan of Slovenia in a photo finish for the silver.
Fabjan took bronze, while Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen — whose brother died on the eve of the games — was fourth.
Bjoergen fell on the final straight of her semifinal — one of a number of spills and falls in both the men's and women's competitions — while Kikkan Randall of the United States was surprisingly knocked out in the quarterfinals.
Falla won her first Olympic medal, having finished 20th in the sprint in Vancouver four years ago. Her victory wasn't a total surprise, though. She has two World Cup victories and looked the strongest throughout the day.
She also had the fastest time in qualifying and then won both her quarterfinal and semifinal heats.
Falla was up front for most of the final and her lead never looked threatened on the final sprint. The race for second was much closer, with Oestberg overtaking Fabjan just before the finish line.
Randall's attempt at becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic cross-country skiing medal fell well short when she finished fourth of six skiers in a tough heat that featured both Bjoergen and German sprint specialist Denise Herrmann. Those two advanced, along with Gaia Vuerich of Italy, who had the second best time of the third-place finishers in the five heats.
Randall, a two-time World Cup sprint champion, waited to see if her time would be good enough as well, but then gave a shrug to the camera when she found out it wasn't.
Bjoergen was far back in her semifinal entering the final straight and then fell as she tried to move up the field. She still smiled when she crossed the line, waving one pole in the air.