Host City: Nagano, Japan
Venue(s): Snow Harp, Hakuba
Date Started: February 18, 1998
Date Finished: February 18, 1998
The 1994 ski relay, termed “The Great Race,” was one of the greatest ski races of all time, with Italy leading Norway to the line by only 4/10ths of a second, with Finland second. The three teams were expected to again battle for the medals, as the finish at the 1995 and 1997 World Championships had been Norway, Finland, and Italy, in that order. The opening leg in Nagano was a surprise with Germany leading, and Norway in 10th place, as Erling Jevne hit the wall at eight kilometers. Finland was third and Italy fourth, but fortunately for Norway, the margin was less than 20 seconds to Finland. On the second leg Sture Sivertsen pulled Norway up to second, though still trailing Italy and Fulvio Valbusa by 12 seconds. Norway sent out ski legend Bjørn Dæhlie on the third leg, and he made up ground on Fabio Maj. At the final exchange, Italy led by 0.5 seconds, with Finland in third, though now a full minute behind.
As in Lillehammer the anchor leg battle between Norway and Italy was the stuff of high drama. Thomas Alsgaard was the Norwegian anchor, facing Italy’s Silvio Fauner. As the Italians had done four years before, Alsgaard sat on Fauner’s tail for most of the leg, refusing to take the lead. Then in the stadium he unleashed a sprint 150 metres from the line, to win the gold medal for his team by 2/10ths of a second. Four years later in Salt Lake City, Norway and Italy would again battle to the line, Norway again winning, this time by 3/10ths of a second. In three relay races, over eight years, and 120 kilometres, Norway and Italy would battle to a near skiing death, the cumulative winning margins less than a full second, and Norway leading on total time by 0.1 seconds.
Finland did hang on for the bronze medal, but they were closely challenged by Sweden, which was less than 10 seconds away from the podium. For Bjørn Dæhlie this was his seventh gold medal, a Winter Olympic record.