Host City: Nagano, Japan
Venue(s): Snow Harp, Hakuba
Date Started: February 16, 1998
Date Finished: February 16, 1998
Russia had won the last three World Championships, and the 1994 Olympic gold medal, which had been won in 1992 by the Unified Team, and 1988 by the Soviet Union, or Russian analogues. They were favored but Norway was tough, placing second at the Worlds in 1995 and 1997, and having won the silver medal in Lillehammer. Russia and Norway would start out quickly, with Nina Gavrylyuk leading over Bente Martinsen, who had a 17.7 second lead over third-place Sweden. On the second leg, Norway moved ahead, one second in front of Russia, with Italy mired back in 12th place. Yelena Välbe, skiing the third leg for Russia, opened it up, and put Russia in front of Norway by 22.8 seconds at the final exchange, Switzerland another minute behind. Manuela Di Centa skied well for Italy but could only move her team up to ninth and a medal now seemed out of the question. Välbe’s split had made things easy for Russian anchor Larisa Lazutina, who increased the lead slightly as Russia won a comfortable gold medal over Norway. For Italy, the impossible would occur, as Stefania Belmondo’s anchor leg was the fastest of the event, by over 26 seconds, and brought Italy in 1.9 seconds ahead of Switzerland. The podium had Russia, Norway, and Italy, in that order, the exact same medal finish as in 1994.