As Iivo Niskanen crossed the finish line after 37 minutes and 54.8 seconds of gruelling racing across the 15km Zhangjiakou cross-country skiing course, he collapsed.

The Finnish skier would soon be crowned Winter Olympic champion in the event, as it became apparent his time would not be beaten.

The exhausted champion soon received his due adulation, however he wasn’t going anywhere.

More than half an hour after Niskanen finished, Colombian Carlos Andres Quintana crossed the line.

As one of the last skiers to commence his run, due to the staggered start of the timed event, Quintana was also the last to finish as he clocked a time of 55 minutes and 41.9 seconds.

Almost 18 minutes slower than gold medallist Niskanen, Quintana placed last of the 95 competitors.

But in a powerful show of respect, Niskanen had waited for him to finish - while many other competitors left the venue - before embracing him to show his congratulations for completing the event.

“All athletes must respect each other,” said Niskanen of the moment.

“You have to show this kind of respect at the Olympics towards countries that don’t have much budget to get the best results, unlike the best nations.”

Quintana, a 36-year-old who only started competitive cross country skiing three years ago, also spoke of the moment.

“Yes. It was a good moment there. And then the Norwegian also congratulated me (bronze medallist Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo),” he told AFP.

“It’s a consolation prize because I didn’t feel comfortable at all. From the start I didn’t feel well physically.

“I don’t know what happened, but physically I didn’t feel like it today.”

For Niskanen, it was his third Olympic gold. He won the 50km classic race in Pyeongchang and the classic team sprint at the 2014 Sochi Games.

“Actually I felt so strong today and it was under control the whole race,” Niskanen said.

“This victory means a lot to me. I was fourth, 0.2 seconds behind the medal in Sochi, at this distance, and it’s been a long eight years to wait for this race again in the Olympic program.”

- With AP