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One final gold medal for Italy

ON THE SNOW: Giorgio Di Centa won the last possible gold medal for the host country, using a powerful sprint through the final stretch of the 50K skate for Italy's first individual gold in cross-country skiing in 38 years.

Di Centa, 33, finished 0.8 seconds ahead of silver medalist Eugeni Dementiev of Russia in a wild ending to the longest and most grueling cross-country competition.

Moments later, a handful of parachutists, trailing streaks of smoke in red, white and green, the colors of the Italian flag, dropped from the sunny sky in a vibrant tribute to Italy's final gold.

"I usually finish second in World Cup races, but today I performed really well, and I achieved a fantastic victory, especially because we are in Italy," Di Centa said. "I had been thinking and planning the race for a long time."

It was the second gold medal for Di Centa, also a member of Italy's winning foursome in the 4x10 relay Feb. 19.

Austria's Mikhail Botwinov took the bronze.

American Carl Swenson, 35, did not finish after starting despite being slowed by a head cold leading up to the race. He trained Saturday and decided to give it a go in his third and final Olympics. Andrew Johnson was the top U.S. finisher at 34th.

- TIMES WIRES

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