- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - There was only one way for Emil Joensson to sum up his bronze-medal performance at the Sochi Olympics.

“Steven Bradbury,” the Swedish cross-country skier said. “I feel like him today.”

Joensson’s bronze in the men’s freestyle sprint on Tuesday certainly brought back memories of Bradbury’s classic gold medal in short track speedskating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, when all of the Australian’s rivals fell in front of him shortly before the finish.

An exhausted and aching Joensson had already given up on fighting for a medal, skiing dead last in the final and just cruising toward the finish, when three other skiers crashed in a heap in the soft snow on a tricky downhill section. Suddenly Joensson found himself in third place, and also found enough energy to stay there until the finish line.

“It was a crazy race for me,” Joensson said. “I was super lucky. Right now I don’t know if I should be happy or feel bad.”

The Swede said he was dead tired after the semifinals, and was also struggling with cramps in his back. He false started on purpose before the final, just to give himself a few extra seconds of rest, but soon realized he didn’t have the power to fight for a gold.

“I was super tired when I was standing at the start line,” he said. “I felt right away after the first hill that, no, I have given everything today in the quarterfinal and semifinal. I had no power left in my legs.”

The others quickly pulled away, with Joensson just trying to get around the track for a sixth-place finish. And then he saw what had happened in front of him.

Anders Gloeersen of Norway crashed into the protective barrier in a downhill curve and ended up taking down Sweden’s Marcus Hellner and Sergey Ustiugov of Russia as well.

“I thought I could avoid him (Gloeersen) but suddenly I went down,” Hellner said. “And then one more guy came.”

When Joensson reached the top of the hill, there were bodies sprawled on the ground in front of him.

“Looking down the hill, I saw a few guys lying on the side,” Joensson said.

And that was enough for him to speed up again. He passed all three, and suddenly he was racing for a medal. Only Gloeersen managed to give chase, but Joensson somehow found the extra reserves of energy he needed to get to the finish.

“I could hear a guy was in the back of me, and I heard one of the Swedish coaches was screaming that I was going for the medal,” he said. “And I was just giving everything I had.”

Ahead of him, Ola Vigen Hattestad of Norway held off Sweden’s Teodor Peterson in a two-way race for the gold medal. Joensson crossed the line nearly 20 seconds behind the winner - an eternity in a sprint race - then collapsed in the snow and needed help from a Swedish team official to get up and walk out of the finish area.

“My back, my body, everything just collapsed,” he said. “I have memory gaps from the race. I don’t remember the last hill.”

Getting a medal, though, is something he won’t forget.

“It was really winning a lottery,” he said. “It was totally unreal.”

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