Norway's Bjoergen takes record sixth cross-country gold medal
By Stuart Williams, AFP
February 23, 2014, 12:06 am TWN
SOCHI, Russia -- Norwegian cross country skier Marit Bjoergen on Saturday sealed her status as one of the greatest Olympic athletes in history, winning a record sixth gold in the women's 30km mass start at the Sochi Games.
In a clean sweep for Norway, Bjoergen showed her usual supremacy in the sprint finish coming home in 1hr 11min 05.2sec, 2.6sec ahead of her compatriot Therese Johaug who took silver. Bronze went to another Norwegian, Kristin Stoermer Steira.
Bjoergen has now equaled the record of Soviet speed skater Lidia Skoblikova and Russian cross country skier Lyubov Yegorova in taking six golds at Winter Olympics, the most by any woman.
She has also now equaled the record of 10 medals overall held by cross country skiers Stefania Belmondo of Italy and Raisa Smetanina of the USSR.
But Olympic historians can now consider Bjoergen to be the greatest female Winter Olympian ever, as her combined tally of six golds, three silver medals and one bronze medal outstrips the others.
Bjoergen's task was made easier thanks to the withdrawal early in the race of her great rival Justyna Kowalcyzk of Poland who was in too much pain to continue after a clash with another skier.
Thereafter, the three Norwegians worked in perfect harmony, creating a "red express" aerodynamic train with the three women skiing in perfect rhythm.
The Games have now become a personal triumph for Bjoergen who can boast three golds after winning the skiathlon and the team sprint. She had won her first Olympic medal, a silver, at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
"It's incredible. We're all Norwegian and we're all on the podium. This has been a goal for me for a long time. I thought the 30km would be hard but I've felt very good in the last days," she said.
The race also marked a remarkable comeback for the Norwegian women, who were ridiculed in the press at home for their lackluster fifth place in the women's relay.
The problems were put down to the backroom team not using the right wax on the ski base for the humid Sochi conditions, a problem Bjoergen said had now been rectified.
"We weren't that good in the relay so we showed today that we are the best," she said.
Johaug added: "It means a lot to the team. We have come back from the relay. We knew we were stronger than that. We had very good skis, the waxing team did a great job."
As this was the final women's cross country event at the Games, Bjoergen would have to keep going until Pyeongchang 2018 in order to hold the Olympics record outright.
She would also have to attend another Games to challenge the record of the all time greatest Winter Olympian of any gender, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen who set a new record of 13 medals at these Games.
Bjoergen hinted earlier in Sochi that these Games could be her last, but has yet to confirm her future plans.