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Posted: Feb 22, 4:18p ET | Updated: Feb 22, 11:27p ET

Germany sprints to Olympic gold

Americans try to close late, finish sixth

WHISTLER (AP) -- For a couple of veterans who supposedly are past their prime, Claudia Nystad and Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle sure have a lot of spring in their step.

The 32-year-old Nystad pulled away from 23-year-old Anna Haag of Sweden shortly before the finish Monday to give Germany the gold medal in the women's cross-country team sprint at the Vancouver Olympics.

After struggling the past two season, Nystad and Sachenbacher-Stehle returned to the top of an Olympic podium for the first time since being part of Germany's winning relay team in Salt Lake City eight years ago.

"We never lost this dream, and we were always working on it," Nystad said. "It's amazing. You believe in this, and you work for this."

Nystad long has been considered one of the best sprinters on the women's circuit, and she went past the younger Haag as they entered the ski stadium for the final time and pulled away on the final sprint.

The German duo finished in 18 minutes, 3.7 seconds for the gold. The Swedish team of Haag and Charlotte Kalla was 0.6 seconds behind for the silver medal, and Russian duo Irina Khazova and Natalia Korosteleva won bronze after coming in 4 seconds back.

It was the fourth Olympic medal for both Germans -- they also have two silvers each from previous games -- but Nystad hasn't been on a World Cup podium since 2008. Sachenbacher-Stehle went nearly three years without a World Cup win before taking a team sprint race in Rybinsk, Russia, in January.

"Sometimes, you don't always have the results you were expecting," Sachenbacher-Stehle said. "But you always train hard and do your best, and now we're having good results again."

The freestyle event features a relay with two members on every team taking turns going three laps each around a 1.4-kilometer course.

Kalla, who won the 10K freestyle race last week, started for the Swedes and pushed the pace on all three of her laps but couldn't lose Sachenbacher-Stehle or Khazova.

That meant Haag, Nystad and Korosteleva started the final lap within a second of each other, and the Swede did her best to create some distance from her rivals. Although she shook off the Russian, Haag couldn't answer when Nystad made her move shortly before the finish.

"We tried to go as fast as possible from the start, because that's our strength, our endurance," Kalla said.

Italy finished fourth and Norway fifth. American duo Kikkan Randall and Caitlin Compton made the final and finished sixth after Randall beat Canada's Sara Renner in a photo finish.

Norway was without double gold medalist Marit Bjoergen, who won the individual sprint and 15K pursuit but skipped this event to rest up ahead of the relay and 30K classical race. Astrid Jacobsen and Celine Brun-Lie competed for Norway instead.

Finland also had a weakened team as Aino-Kaisa Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen -- who won the team sprint at last year's world championships when it was a classical event -- skipped the competition. Their replacements, Riitta-Liisa Roponen and Riikka Sarasoja, finished eighth.

It was the second silver medal of the games for Haag, who was also second in the 15K pursuit.

"We really went for the gold, but we are really satisfied with silver," Haag said. "In the beginning of the last few meters I thought 'maybe I can take it,' but there wasn't enough distance left. (Nystad) was too strong today."

The spring-like weather at Whistler Olympic Park continued Monday with temperatures around 50 F (9 C), leading to the unusual sight of some European fans lining the course in short sleeved-shirts -- or no shirt at all.

"On such a nice day, dreams come true," Nystad said.

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