Oslo World Championships: Matti Heikkinen's gold medal breaks 12-year drought for men's cross-country skiing
Matti Heikkinen, 27, won the gold medal in the men's 15km classic race at the Oslo Nordic Skiing World Championships on Tuesday, and in so doing broke a 12-year drought, stetching back to the 1999 Worlds in Ramsau.
Since then, no male Finnish skier has climbed to the top of the podium in a major competition such as this, and medals themselves of any colour have been in relatively short supply.
These games had thus far promised little better, with the solitary hardware before Tuesday having come from Aino-Kaisa Saarinen in the form of a bronze in the women's 10km on Monday.
However, Heikkinen broke the bank yesterday, and he showed some of the form that had been hinted at earlier in an up-and-down season, when he won a leg of the FIS Tour de Ski event.
He started slowly but by halfway was challenging for the lead and eventually won fairly comfortably by 13.3 seconds from the Norwegian Eldar Rønning, who was in turn 18.6 seconds ahead of 3rd-placed Martin Sundby, also of Norway.
To cap a very good day for the Finnish men at long last, Sami Jauhojärvi was 5th, Ville Nousiainen 8th, and Tero Similä 16th.
It was the first day of the competitions - which began on Thursday of last week - on which the Norwegian hosts did not get to celebrate a home World Champion in the skiing, and the brief bragging rights for the Finns were given added sweetness by the fact that the Swedish skiers occupied the also-ran placings.
Heikkinen, who did actually take a bronze medal in this same event two years ago in Liberec and is therefore not a complete unknown in the sport, has now laid down a strong early marker for the Sports Personality of the Year award.
Cross-country skiing, very much in the doldrums among the men ever since the Lahti doping fiasco of 2001, has always been close to the hearts of the public at large and the sports journalists in particular.
The games continue until Sunday. Norway so far heads the medals table by a country mile, with four golds, three silver, and three bronze medals, mostly from cross-country skiing.
The Austrians have thus far pretty much swept the board in the ski-jumping - three golds and a silver medal to date - and have also been prominent in the Nordic combined events.
The Finnish ski-jumpers and Nordic combined athletes have not been very close to any shade of medal in any of the competitions so far, which only adds to the significance of Heikkinen's achievement on Tuesday.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Youngest member of Finnish Ski Team beats her older team-mates in Val di Fiemme (10.1.2011)
Tour de Ski medal within Matti Heikkinen´s grasp (7.1.2011)
Matti Heikkinen wins Tour de Ski race (4.1.2011)
FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, Oslo
FIS: Matti Heikkinen
FIS: Aino-Kaisa Saarinen
2011 Nordic Ski World Championships (Wikipedia)