Sunday's XC World Cup cancelled due to wind, after Larsson wins Saturday opener

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DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) - Strong winds led to a cross-country skiing World Cup event being canceled Sunday, but the first ever competition of its kind held inside a German city drew 350,000 spectators.

Winds up to 120 kph (72 mph) blew television cameras and advertising banners onto the course made of artificial snow, which had been set up in downtown Duesseldorf.

"We had to end it because there was a real health danger, but fortunately none of the competitors or spectators were hurt," said Bengt Erik Bengtsson, head of cross-country for the world skiing organization FIS.

The event drew 200,000 people Sunday, after 150,000 flocked to the banks of the Rhein River on Saturday to watch the World Cup season opener for the sport.

In perfect weather Saturday, Sweden's Peter Larsson captured the men's race and Norway's Marit Bjoergen the women's 1.5 kilometer sprint.

Sunday's sprint relays were stopped and the results nullified because of the wind.

Organizers called the 1 million euro (US$1 million) event an unqualified success, saying it proved that cross-country skiing could be held in the city instead of countryside and carried out in Autumn instead of winter.

To build the 750 meter (820 yard) course along the Rhein River, 2500 cubic meters (3,270 cubic yards)of artificial snow were trucked into the city.

"We showed you can have a ski cross-country race along the Rhein river - and 350,000 spectators speaks for itself," said August Pollen. president of Germany's Olympic Committee.

Bengtsson said he was unaware of winds ever stopping a World Cup skiing cross-country race before, but at the 2001 world championships in Lahti, Finland, a 30 kilometer women's race was canceled because of the cold.

The event became a happening, according to organizers, that went beyond the actual race in the city about 50 kilometers from the border to the Netherlands, which doesn't have any mountains near it.

Children could ride bobsleds down hills of artificial snow and climb onto merry-go-rounds on their skis, while music from the Alps using traditional brass instruments was played and food specialties from the mountains were served.

"An event like this just has to become tradition," said Rosi Mittermaier, a two-time Olympic skiing champion.

Sweden's Larsson wins Saturday's race

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) - Sweden's Peter Larsson was a surprise winner Saturday at the first skiing cross-country World Cup event of the season, upsetting Olympic gold medalist Tor Arne Hetland in the 1.5 kilometer sprint.

Larsson, capturing his first World Cup, finished in two minutes, 46.08 seconds in front of 150,000 spectators, who saw the first ever cross country race held in a German city using artificial snow.

Countryman Tobias Fredriksson was second, 1.3 seconds back, while Hetland finished third in the final and trailed by 6.1.

Norway's Marit Bjorgen also won her first World Cup event in the women's race, finishing in 3:17.30, beating out Italy's Gabriella Paruzzi in the final by 0.9 seconds with Norway's Anita Moen third at 2.0 seconds back.

The organizers brought in 12 truckloads of snow to set up a 750 meter (821 yard) course in Duesseldorf's old town along the Rhein river.

"It was totally fun to race here, even though it was missing a few hills," said Germany's Evi Sachenbacher, the Olympic silver medalist in the women's sprint, who was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

1.5 kilometer sprint
MEN
1, Peter Larsson, Sweden, 2 minutes 46.08 seconds.
2, Tobias Fredriksson, Sweden, 1.3 seconds back.
3, Tor Arne Hetland, Norway, 6.1.
4, Mikael Ostberg, Sweden, 35.3.
B-final
5, Haavard Bjerkeli, Norway
6, Ari Palolahti, Finland.
7, Rene Sommerfeldt, Germany.
8, Einar Trond Elden, Norway.
WOMEN
1, Marit Bjorgen, Norway, 3:17.30.
2, Gabriella Paruzzi, Italy, 0.9.
3, Anita Moen, Norway, 2.0.
4, Hilde Pedersen, Norway, 2.5.
B-final
5, Vibeke Skofterrud, Norway.
6, Anna Dahlberg, Sweden.
7, Maj Helen Sorkmo, Norway.
8, Claudia Kuenzel, Germany.