Second gold for Russian Egorova

RUSSIA'S defending champion Lyubov Egorova swept to her second cross-country skiing gold of the Olympics yesterday when she powered to victory in the women's 10 kilometres freestyle.

Italian fans also had plenty to celebrate as Manuela Di Centa took the silver and world champion Stefania Belmondo got the bronze.

The pursuit start, based on the leading times from Tuesday's five-kilometre classic, had given World Cup leader Egorova a 20-second lead over second-placed Di Centa and both women defended their hard-won positions to the death.

It was Egorova's fifth Olympic gold after bagging three at Albertville - the same 10-kilometre pursuit, the 15-kilometre classic and the relay. The 27-year-old, who has said she will give next season a miss to start a family, is also the reigning World Cup champion.

The result underlined how the pair have dominated all three races of the Games, with Di Centa having won the gold medal in Sunday's 15 kilometres and Egorova taking the silver.

The Italian managed to slash the latest winning margin to just eight seconds after sprinting the last three kilometres but the performance of the day went to Belmondo, who started with bib number 13 and nearly a minute's handicap.

Belmondo, who is no friend of Di Centa's either on or off the skiing circuit, surged through the pack and then won a desperate battle with Russia's Larisa Lazutina for the medal.

While Lazutina was fighting her way to the front, Finnish heroine Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi slipped back from her third-place start.

Kirvesniemi, 38, had made history in the earlier race by becoming the oldest medal winner in the Winter Olympics.

Norwegian cross-country hero Bjorn Daehlie rediscovered his golden touch with a triumph in the men's 10-kilometre classic.

Daehlie, a triple gold medallist at Albertville two years ago but denied Monday's 30-kilometre gold by compatriot Thomas Alsgaard, saw off a gritty challenge from his Siberian archrival Vladimir Smirnov.

Smirnov, the runaway World Cup leader who had also settled for silver at last year's World Championships in Falun, was 18 seconds off the pace.

The bronze medal went to inspired Italian veteran Marco Alborello, 33, who came home just four seconds later.

Russia's Svetlana Bazhanova won the women's 3,000 metres speed skating yesterday after a spectacular fall by 1992 champion and world record-holder Gerda Niemann of Germany.

Bazhanova clocked four minutes and 17.43 seconds to beat Emese Hunyady of Austria, who was timed in 4:18.14. German Claudia Pechstein was third in 4:18.34.