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Ski star ‘doesn’t care’ if Russians brand rivals cowards over refusal to race in -22 cold

A ski star has denied his team are “cowards” after watching Russia sweep the podium following their refusal to start a World Cup pursuit race in harrowingly cold conditions in Finland.

A trio of Russian stars took top honors in the pursuit at the first stage of the World Cup after their rivals from Norway decided not to start the race amid a freakishly harsh freeze at the Ruka Nordic.

Several skiiers needed hospital treatment earlier this year when they suffered frostbite injuries ranging from their hands and toes to their private parts in similar conditions in Switzerland.

With the Winter Olympics in Beijing only three months away, Norway’s Johannes Klebo issued a defiant message after he joined his teammates in what they evidently perceive as a case of putting their health first.

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“Can the Russians consider us cowards after our refusal?” Klebo was quoted as saying by RIA.

“Please, I don’t care. Today we watched the Russian [team win]… we made a decision, keeping in mind the future [competitions] – this is important.”

Alexander Bolshunov finished first ahead of Sergei Ustyugov and Artem Maltsev, with temperatures said to have dropped as low as minus 22 degrees celsius.

“OK – a couple of them really have issues, so I see that,” Russian team coach Markus Cramer told Dagbladet.

“But when the whole team does not [start], it is not good for the sport. For us, it means nothing. We start because we want to compete.

“For us, there was no question [of not competing]. Of course, when it was minus 20 degrees, I hoped the judges would cancel it. But when it was minus 18 degrees, there was no question.”

Bolshunov’s coach, Yuri Borodavko, told the outlet: “I understand it. The Norwegians struggle in the cold with their lungs. For us, it is not a problem.”

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Great Britain coach Jostein Vinjerui said the move had resulted in “less competition”.

“Norway stands out but they make choices for their own reasons,” he observed.

“There is very little we can do about it but it is stupid that the best are missing at the start.”

Klebo told his Instagram following of more than 415,000: “I really wanted to take part in the competition but the season has just started and, in this cold weather, I think it̵’s wise to play it safe.

“I tried to warm up but personally I think it was too cold for today’s race. Fortunately, the season has already started and a new opportunity will open up next weekend.

“Not quite the ending to [the competition] we had hoped for. Thank you, Ruka – on to the next one.”

Finn Iivo Niskanen had led the race before withdrawing because of the conditions, clearing the snow-laden path for the Russian competitors to dominate the top of the field.

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