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Larisa Lazutina A Winning Run in 1998

Larisa Lazutina  A Winning Run in 1998

Although female athletics typically draw less of an audience than their male counterparts, the Olympic Games seem to really balance these numbers. Women's events in most sports are just as appreciated as the men's competitions, and a woman like Larisa Lazutina is considered every bit as important to the overall Olympiad as a male athlete like Eric Heiden.

During an impressive and historic run during the 1998 Winter Games in Naganto, Japan, Larisa Lazutina forever etched her mark in Olympic history, and her feat plays second fiddle to no one.

Larisa Lazutina

Born in Kondopoga, Karelian ASSR on June 1, 1965, Larisa Evgenevna Lazutina is a former cross-country skier with multiple championships and medals to her name. Although she was marred with controversy after failing a drug test in the lead-up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, her more recent failings have never compromised her past. She was a clean athlete throughout the '80s and '90s, and was even honored by Boris Yeltsin as a Hero of the Russian Federation.

Starting in 1987, she helped her team earn World Championship gold, before ultimately branching out and earning a name for herself as a tremendous skier. Larisa would win a gold medal in both the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympic Games, but it wasn't until '98 in Nagano that she became a legend in the sport.

The 1998 Winter Olympic Games and Lazutina's Dominance

Entering the 1998 Winter Games in Japan, Larisa wasn't exactly a favorite to win a medal in every race, but her team certainly was. Russia was packed with powerhouse skiers, including Nina Gavrilyuk, Yelena Valbe, and Olga Danilova. Together they stood as the odds-on favorites to win the 4 x 5km relay, but when it came to individual races, Larisa was actually considered to be behind fellow countrywoman Danilova.

The perceptions of Lazutina would change immediately. During the 5km classical, Larisa showed tremendous poise and stamina, defeating fantastic skiers Katerina Neumannova (Czech Republic) and Bente Martinsen (Norway). Larisa didn't dominate the field and leave all others in the dust, but she did handily defeat the competition en route to her first of five medals. A gold medal this early on would set the stage for an exciting week of skiing, and the Russians would ultimately benefit greatly from Larisa's strong showing.

Next up was the 5km + 10km pursuit race, a grueling race that takes skill, pace and perseverance to even finish, much less win. Olga Danilova was constantly challenging Larisa for the top spot, but Lazutina ultimately defeated her, with Katerina Neumannova providing another strong showing in 3rd place. The next race on the docket, the 15km classical freestyle, was another instant classic. Again, Larisa and Olga dueled for 1st and 2nd place. Only this time, it would be Larisa finishing with the silver and her countrywoman taking the top spot.

The 30km freestyle, thought to be the most challenging of the races, was one that Larisa wanted to win. Unfortunately, Lazutina fell behind her teammate's pace and could never catch up. Yuliya Chepalova, yet another strong Russian, ended up taking gold in the 30km, with Stefania Belmondo of Italy coming in 2nd. Larisa would drop to 3rd to claim bronze.

There was little doubt about the last race. Of the four races previous, a Russian had claimed gold in every one, and silver in two of the four. From start to finish the Russians dominated, with Larisa absolutely decimating the competition during her particular leg.

When it was all said and done, Larisa Lazutina had claimed 5 medals in the 1998 Winter Olympic Games – 3 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze. This made her the most successful athlete at that particular Games, and one of the most successful athletes in history.

Larisa's career ended shortly after the controversy surrounding her 1992 failed test, but that has never stolen from her glory she earned in previous Olympics.

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