Marit Bjoergen fulfilled expectations by earning her fourth Olympic gold medal with victory in the skiathlon event yesterday for Norway at the Sochi Winter Games.
Bjoergen, dubbed the “Iron Lady,” tucked herself into the leading pack for most of the race, which combines 7.5km in classic style and 7.5km in freestyle, before outsprinting Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla in the race to the finish.
Another Norwegian, Heidi Weng, took third place just ahead of World Cup leader and compatriot Therese Johaug, who paid the price of working tirelessly at the front of the pack in the second part of the race.
The Norwegian skiers wore black armbands in the race after receiving the news that the brother of cross-country teammate, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, had died on Friday.
“My fantastic girls ... You are my strength in thick and thin,” Jacobsen posted on Twitter during the race. “Thanks for the commemorating armbands. Forever grateful, whether there will be medals or not.”
Television pictures later showed the Norwegian skiers hugging together, with a crying Bjoergen resting Johaug’s head on her shoulder.
Bjoergen came home in a time of 38 minutes, 33.6 seconds, 1.8 seconds ahead of Kalla.
“One gold was my goal, so now I can relax a little bit. I can enjoy the rest of the Games,” said Bjoergen, who still has five events to compete in.
“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,” she said. “I knew it would be a sprint. I did my best for the last 100m and I was sprinting very hard at the end.”
Bjoergen’s fourth gold medal takes her past Sonja Henie as the most successful female Olympian from Norway.
Kalla was the fastest at the 7.5km mark, where the field changed skis, but things did not go as smoothly for Pole Justyna Kowalczyk, who fell just before the stop and lost time she could not recover.
Johaug then pulled the leading pack of five into the final 3.75km lap as they charged down a descent at over 70kph.
Kalla attacked with just under 1km left, taking Bjoergen in her slipstream and the Norwegian, who has eight Olympic medals to her name, put in the decisive attack.