PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- When Simen Hegstad Krueger slipped and fell on the first lap of the 30-kilometer cross-country skiathlon and found himself facedown in the snow with two rivals on top of him, he figured his hopes at an Olympic medal were over.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
"Here it is, my first ever Olympic race, and it starts in the worst possible way," said the Norwegian, who untangled his legs and skis from the two Russian competitors he wrecked, grabbed his broken ski pole and stormed up the hill to get back in contention.
Starting from the rear, Krueger passed 63 skiers to take the lead and win the gold medal Sunday to cap an amazing comeback. After Krueger crossed the line in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 20 seconds, he looked to the heavens and repeatedly pumped his fists in the air.
Norway swept the medals, with Martin Johnsrud Sundby taking silver and Hans Christer Holund getting bronze.
Sundby said Krueger's return to the front of the field after crashing is an incredible testament to his perseverance.
"I think we have a deserving Olympic champion," Sundby said.
Holund said he would expect nothing more from a Norwegian skier in a sport they have dominated for years.
"When you are skiing for Norway, there are a lot of guys skiing for that right [to participate in the Olympics]. You should not give up, especially when you are in the Olympics," Holund said. "It shows that Simen is a real strong guy -- not just physical, but also mental."
Just seconds after the mass start began and with skiers still bottled up in lines, Krueger appeared to slip midstride and his right ski came out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground. The two skiers directly behind him -- Andrey Larkov and Denis Spitsov, Russians competing under the Olympic flag -- couldn't stop quickly enough and toppled over him in a heap.
Krueger told himself he needed to stay calm.
He knew he couldn't get back the 15 seconds he lost all at once. It would take patience to get back in the lead pack and still have some energy left at the end of the race.
"I had to try to keep those [negative] thoughts away," Kruger said. "I knew it was going to be extremely hard."
One of the Norway coaches gave Krueger a new pole -- which is legal -- shortly after the crash. Krueger steadily moved through the field and eventually took the lead with 5 kilometers remaining.
On the eighth and final lap, Krueger made what Holund called a "daring move" to pull away from the pack.
He succeeded with the help of Norwegian teammates, whose plan coming into the race was for a team victory -- meaning protecting the leader if he tried to pull away by not letting other top medal contenders like Swiss great Dario Cologna catch up.
"If Simen had a seven-second lead and I tried to catch him and Dario was able to stay with me and then Dario and me caught him and Dario has the best finish, that would not look so good for us," Sundby said. "I think we all agree the plan was good for the Norwegian team."