On the eve of the start of the women's marathon, hardly anyone had any doubts about the name of the favorite.
In the “classics”, only Yulia Stupak could argue with Natalia Nepryaeva, with whom they not only covered the 10-kilometer distance at the Beijing Winter Olympics side by side, but also fought for gold in the sprint at the “Champion Heights”.
However, the four-time medalist of the Olympic Games-2022 was not in the protocol.
However, like many other athletes who decided to miss the final race of the competition.
As a result, only 30 girls applied to participate in the race - almost half as many as for the ten-kilometer freestyle run that ended the other day.
On this day in Malinovka, the weather was not very cold, but at the same time clear weather, which guaranteed good grip on the track.
And up to a certain point, Veronika Stepanova used this very well.
An athlete specializing in skating led the peloton and led the pursuers for most of the starting segment.
Among them was the most experienced Nepryaeva, who preferred to save energy and once again not take on the role of a pioneer.
Already by the fifth kilometer, some of them stopped maintaining the set pace.
12 skiers “fell off” from the main group, among whom was Anastasia Vlasova, who finished fourth in the classic sprint.
And already after a third of the distance, six more were hopelessly behind, including the younger sister of Natalia Nepryaeva, Daria.
By this point, the gap between the leaders and the laggards had grown to 30 seconds and continued to increase.
As a result, by the 15-kilometer cut-off, only nine athletes remained among the contenders for victory, while Diana Artemyeva, who was walking tenth, was already losing almost half a minute.
Led by Stepanova, who felt confident on the track, the group entered the stadium, where some of them were already waiting for new skis.
But while a number of competitors began to change equipment, Nepryaeva tried to seize the moment and break away.
Yes, she didn't get far.
First, Anastasia Kuleshova, and then other rivals caught up with Natalya and did not let the intrigue die.
But only for a while.
Nepryaeva entered the final third of the marathon as the sole leader, while only the same Kuleshova continued to resist her.
But if at the control point of 20 km Anastasia lagged behind Natalia by only 1.9 seconds, then after 1100 meters the gap increased to 8.3.
The rest of the girls completely lost their chances of success.
Stepanova was already more than a minute away from the leading duet, and the silver medalist of the 2021 World Cup in Oberstdorf, Yana Kirpichenko, was even more - almost two and a half.
Apparently, the reason for such a failure was the change of skis, because it was after that that both fell out of the favorites.
“The weather is good enough.
Today, changing skis, in my opinion, was a fatal mistake.
This is immediately a huge loss and elimination from the group of leaders.
Initially, I was sure that in no case would I go into the pits ... I saw that Veronika (Stepanova. -
) went ... The girls went to change skis, and I went at my own pace, ”added Nepryaeva.
By this time, three had already retired from the race.
And if Alina Kruglova and Anastasia Vlasova lost their chances to successfully complete the race and did not waste their energy before the national championship in Tyumen, then Maria Istomina was prevented by an injury.
The representative of the Perm Territory was fourth, but felt discomfort in her back and was forced to complete the race.
“She was shot in the back, and Masha could not finish.
At first there were not very strong pains.
But when the pains intensified to sharp, she had to get off.
The doctor is working with her now, in the evening the physiotherapist will look and in the evening they will determine what happened to her, ”Yuri Borodavko, head coach of the Russian national team, told Match TV.
As a result, five kilometers before the finish line, there was practically no doubt both in the triumph of Nepryaeva and in the fact that it was Kuleshova who would get the silver medal.
At the same time, a serious struggle promised to unfold for bronze.
Lydia Gorbunova and Anastasia Prokofiev were separated by only 0.8 seconds, and Ekaterina Smirnova and Evgenia Krupitskaya were not far away.
But they were not enough for the last push.
Moreover, Gorbunova also lost her strength, who let Prokofiev go ahead and deprived the fans of the opportunity to watch the rivalry in the finish line.
Anastasia took third place, Kuleshova became second, and Nyapryeva again confirmed that in the “classics” she has no equal in the country.
Natalya followed the example of Artyom Maltsev and crossed the ribbon with the flag, however, not of the country, but of the Arkhangelsk region.
But even despite this, she “brought” the nearest pursuer almost half a minute.
Thus, Nepryaeva won the third gold medal at the Champions Heights.
Previously, she excelled in the sprint classic and skiathlon, and also took silver in the team sprint and 10 km freestyle race.
“Only positive emotions.
Great race, great weather.
I can probably say that we took a walk today.
Especially the first 15 km.
It is easy to breathe, ”the winner commented on her performance on the air.
But if Nepryaeva did not even seem tired, then the same could not be said about Stepanova.
Veronica, who finished ninth, collapsed exhausted on the snow, clutched her stomach and did not rise for several minutes.
The Olympic champion in the relay was able to recover only after she was helped by doctors.
“After the finish, she did not feel very well, doctors immediately began to deal with her.
While the reasons why she became ill, I do not know.
She is conscious, doctors are just working with her, ”explained Borodavko.
As the chief physician of the Russian Ski Racing Federation (FLGR) Roman Erlikhman later said, the cause of Stepanova's problems was muscle spasm.
At the same time, he assured that the girl "will feel good."
“These are core muscles.
She was prescribed antispasmodics.
Everything will be fine: she is young and strong.
She is under the control of doctors, there are no questions of life.
To improve her condition, therapy is needed to remove spasm in the muscles, Erlichman said.
In turn, the second Kuleshova, who came to the finish line, also looked fresh.
She highly appreciated the track in Malinovka and admitted that she tried to fight Nepryaeva to the last.
“Due to the fact that the weather is good, hard skiing, there was not much need to change skis.
There were adjustments.
Just in case, they put an extra pair, but they were not needed ... I tried to catch the gap as little as possible, to lose.
I wanted to hold on to Natalya (Nepryaeva) so that I could even fight.
We are all humans.
Someone may run out of strength, open a second wind.
I’m happy that I managed to keep the second place, get good emotions from today’s race,” said Kuleshova.
But if the athlete from Nizhny Novgorod calmly accepted her success in the mass start, then Prokofieva, who took the bronze, was extremely emotional.
She admitted that the first award at the "Champion's Heights" was very difficult for her and could not hold back her tears.
Yesterday there were thoughts: “Maybe not start?”.
Here I am not in shape at all, I endured every race to the maximum.
I tried to take bonus cutoffs in order to somehow cheer myself up.
Until the last, I didn’t believe that I could call in today (in prizes. -
We fought very hard with Lida (Gorbunova).
I thought she would make me at the finish line.
But to the last line she did not hear her, she ran and tried to the last.
Probably (these are tears of happiness).
Thought it would be better.
I was preparing for these “heights”, but it didn’t work out from the word at all, ”said Prokofieva.