Bjoergen (NOR) wins gold in ladies' Skiathlon
Source: Olympic News Service
KRASNAYA POLYANA - Marit BJOERGEN (NOR) became the the oldest female Olympic Winter Games gold medallist at 33 years 324 days when she won the opening event of the cross country at Sochi 2014 on Saturday.
She came into the 7.5km + 7.5km skiathlon as the hot favourite and did not disappoint under dazzling blue skies in KRASNAYA POLYANA. She was rarely out of the first two throughout and although she lost the lead to Charlotte KALLA (SWE) on the punishing final uphill climb, she had the composure and tactical nous to regain it and win in 38 minutes 33.6 seconds.
The Swede at least prevented the anticipated Norwegian clean sweep. Heidi WENG (NOR) took the bronze medal, with compatriot Therese JOHAUG (NOR) a slightly disappointing fourth. A few people had predicted that the blonde-haired JOHAUG might usurp BJOERGEN here as the the queen of cross country
BJOERGEN beat the record of Stefania BELMONDO (ITA), who won the 15km free at Salt Lake City 2002, by 297 days in setting the record as the oldest winter Games gold medallist.
BJOERGEN, the Vancouver 2010 triple gold medallist, said before competition she was aiming to win just one gold in Sochi but she might now have to realign her sights.
"One gold was my goal, so now I can relax a little bit," she said. "I can enjoy the rest of the Games.
"I knew Charlotte would be strong in the sprint and she's good at the climbs but I thought that if I could follow her, I would have a chance. I knew it would be a sprint. I did my best for the last 100m and I was sprinting very hard at the end."
Although the lead changed hands several times during the classic half of the race, the Norwegians were always in the front of the pack, with KALLA, Justyna KOWALCZYK (POL) and Aino-Kaisa SAARINEN (FIN) in close support.
However, as the leading group approached the halfway point, when the skiers change skis, SAARINEN and KOWALCZYK fell over, with KOWALCZYK later saying she was close to SAARINEN's ski.
SAARINEN recovered sufficiently to lead the race briefly but it proved the undoing of the four-time medallist KOWALCZYK, who came into these Olympic Winter Games nursing a bruised ankle following a fall last month in training.
Soon afterwards, JOHAUG, BJOERGEN, KALLA, WENG and SAARINEN broke away from the rest of the field. From a starting field of 61, it was suddenly a five-horse race.
On the final uphill climb, spectators at the Laura cross country course were treated to the unusual sight of BJOERGEN outmuscled by KALLA, who took the lead. Calling on all of her vast experience, the Norwegian queen of cross country kept her nerve and when a small gap opened up on the inside of KALLA on the final turn, she dived through it and never looked back.
Ladies Top 5
1. BJOERGEN Marit 1980 NOR 38:33.6
2. KALLA Charlotte 1987 SWE +1.8
3. WENG Heidi 1991 NOR +13.2
4. JOHAUG Therese 1988 NOR +14.6
5. SAARINEN Aino-Kaisa 1979 FIN +15.3
Complete results are available HERE.
- This was her fourth Olympic gold medal, surpassing Sonja HENIE (NOR) as the most successful woman from Norway in summer and winter Games combined.
- Bjoergen won the skiathlon also in Vancouver 2010, becoming the second woman from Norway to win a specific Olympic event at least twice after HENIE, who claimed gold in ladies figure skating in 1928, 1932 and 1936
- BJOERGEN also became the oldest individual female Olympic Winter Games gold medallist in this sport. BJOERGEN is 33 years and 324 days and beat Stefania BELMONDO (ITA), who was 33 years and 27 days when she won the 15km freestyle at Salt Lake City 2002.
- Heidi WENG (NOR) claimed bronze and her first Olympic medal. This is the third time Norway has claimed two medals in a women's event after the 10km classic in cross country in 1968 and 2006.
- For Kalla it was her second Olympic medal. She won gold in Vancouver in 2010 in the 10 km F
Heidi WENG (NOR) - bronze
"I was very strong in the classic track. I've not been so good in skate this year and I tried to focus in that last hill. It was amazing to take a medal today. It's very good that Marit won, it's an amazing Norwegian day today."
Charlotte KALLA (SWE) - silver
"I did my best, but I was very tired after the uphill. I just tried to go as fast as I could."
Marit BJOERGEN (NOR) - gold
"I don't think about how many medals I've won because I am still competing. I will think about that after I stop skiing. Charlotte attacked in the last climb and got a few metres on me - I was 10 or 15 metres behind. I thought maybe my legs are better than hers, and I pushed hard until the end. I attacked and I had a good feeling. My skis felt good and my legs felt good. I looked behind and no one was there. I will compete in six races so everything is possible. I feel good, so I can do well."