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Belmondo Wins First Gold Medal of Winter Olympic Games - 2002-02-09

The first medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics were handed out Saturday morning.

The opening event of these games was in women's cross-country skiing and the gold medal in the 15-kilometer freestyle event with a mass start goes to Italian veteran Stefania Belmondo.

The 33-year-old covered the distance in 39:54.4. It was a close race to the finish line in the final 150 meters, as Belmondo beat Russian Larissa Lazutina by only 1.8 seconds. The bronze medal went to Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic, who came into these games as the overall World Cup leader. She was 6.9 seconds off the pace.

For Belmondo, it was her eighth Olympics medal in cross country skiing, but only her second gold. At her first Winter Games in 1992 in Albertville, France, she won gold in the 30-kilometer cross country race. She's now won medals at each of the last four Winter Olympics.

Sixty skiers started Saturday's first-ever Olympics freestyle mass start race. The top American finisher was Nina Kemppel in 30th place.