- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Petter Northug has one last chance to make sure his Sochi Olympics aren’t a total failure.

The Norwegian cross-country star has zero medals so far, a big disappointment considering he left the Vancouver Games four years ago with four, including two golds. His final opportunity to set things right comes in Sunday’s 50-kilometer race, where he can become the first skier to successfully defend the Olympic title in the discipline.

Northug is normally among the favorites in any mass-start freestyle race because of his ability to stay with the leading pack and then win a sprint finish, but his form in Sochi implies that he could again struggle to get to that point.

If he doesn’t, Dario Cologna could become the second man, after Russian short track skater Viktor Ahn (who also has a silver), to win three gold medals at the Sochi Games.

Having recovered from having ankle surgery in November, the Swiss skier won the opening 30K skiathlon and the 15K classical race in impressive fashion. A third gold medal here would give him four for his career and equal ski jumper Simon Ammann’s Swiss record for the Winter Games.

Three-time Olympic champion Marcus Hellner will miss the race because of an illness, meaning Sweden’s best chance at a medal rests with Johan Olsson, the world champion in the distance. Olsson won the world title in Val di Fiemme last year when it was a classical-style race after an early breakaway, skiing alone for much of the race as the chasing pack couldn’t catch up. The Swede, who doesn’t have a great sprint, might try something similar on Saturday in order to make sure Northug and other rivals aren’t still around at the finish.

Olsson took silver in the 15K classical race despite not having competed for two months because of a rib injury and illness. He said his freestyle still isn’t at his best, and downplayed his chances to be on the podium again.

“There are a few guys much stronger than me,” Olsson said. “I think Dario Cologna and Alexander Legkov are the absolute top favorites.”

Legkov is hoping to give Russia its first gold medal in the sport at these games, as is teammate Maxim Vylegzhanin, and both are capable of challenging for the win.

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