(Corrects name to Maurice Manificat in para 5) (Adds details)
By Philip O’Connor
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s Dario Cologna crushed the field in the men’s 15km freestyle race to take his third successive Olympic title over the distance, winning gold in a time of 33:43.9 minutes at the Alpensia Sports Park on Friday.
Norway’s Simen Hegstad Krueger finished 18.3 seconds behind the Swiss, with Denis Spitsov, representing Olympic Athletes from Russia, in third another 4.7 seconds further back.
Known in his home country as “Super Dario”, the 31-year-old burst into tears and was comforted by his coaches as it became clear that his third 15km gold was secured.
With the 14 seeded athletes choosing to start in the middle of the 119-strong field, Sweden’s Calle Halvarsson put down a marker for the rest of the field with some good early split times, but he was soon swallowed up as the specialists over the distance got out on the course.
France’s Maurice Manificat, who leads the World Cup distance race table, set off at a cracking pace and immediately took the lead at the first split, but by the second split Cologna had taken a lead he would not relinquish.
Manificat eventually finished in fifth, 27 seconds behind the Swiss.
Norway sent out another strong team in the hope of plundering more Olympic gold but only Krueger, who won the skiathlon event on Sunday, managed to make the podium.
Team mate Martin Johnsrud Sundby looked like he was in with a chance for bronze, but a strong late spurt by Spitsov gave the Russian third place.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury