Sun, Feb 11, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Pyeongchang Olympics: Kalla wins as Bjoergen makes history

DOMINANT:Norwegian Marit Bjoergen became the most decorated female Winter Olympian with a total of 11 medals and is on the verge of taking overall honors

AP, PYEONGCHANG, South Korea

Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla leads the pack in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics cross-country skiing ladies’ 7.5km plus 7.5km skiathlon in South Korea yesterday.

Photo: AFP

The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics yesterday got off to a historic start.

Charlotte Kalla of Sweden won the first gold medal of the Games, while Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen took silver in the ladies’ 7.5km plus 7.5km skiathlon to become the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever.

However, while 37-year-old Bjoergen, who won three gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games and three more in Sochi four years ago, proved she is still a dominant figure in the sport, she admitted that there is a noticeable changing of the guard happening in the sport.

“I have been very good for many years, but I’m also getting older and the younger girls are getting better,” Bjoergen said.

It was an 11th career medal for Bjoergen, breaking a three-way tie with Raisa Smetanina of Russia and Stefania Belmondo of Italy.

Bjoergen thrust her arms up in the air as she crossed the finish, knowing she had made history in what she said would be her final Olympics.

Kalla won the race by more than seven seconds after breaking away from the pack in the final 2km to avenge her second-place finish to Bjoergen at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

She said that she has plenty of respect for Bjoergen, one of her training partners.

“It feels very good to be ahead of Marit,” Kalla said. “She’s a fantastic skier.”

Krista Parmakoski of Finland was third, while Jessica Diggins placed fifth, missing a chance to become the first American woman to earn a medal in cross-country skiing.

Diggins was third in the skiing World Cup standings entering the race.

She said she was so nervous before the race that she threw up.

“The stress level has been pretty high,” Diggins said. “I need to work on a few things to manage stress.”

Led by Bjoergen, Norway won 11 medals overall in cross-country in Sochi four years ago — including five golds — to tie the country’s record.

Norway have now tied Russia for the most all-time medals in women’s cross-country skiing with 37.

Including men’s cross-country events, only Bjoern Daehlie of Norway has won more medals (12) than Bjoergen. She will have a chance to pass that mark in the next few weeks.

For Kalla, it was her sixth career Olympic medal — and third gold.

Bjoergen was 14th after the first of the four laps, but bolted to the lead on the outside on the second lap. She led by less than a second at the midway point of the race as the crowd roared, sensing that history was near.

However, when the skiers changed skis and went from classical to freestyle technique, Bjoergen seemed to lose some momentum.

The lead changed hands several times on the third lap before Bjoergen again grabbed the lead.

However, it did not last.

Late in the race, Kalla seemed re-energized and pulled away with a burst. She coasted the final 20m for the victory after leading by more than 10 seconds.

Kalla said she worried she might have made her move too early.

“There were some thoughts about what the others were doing, but I just tried to focus on my performance,” Kalla said. “I try to look forward all of the time.”

Bjoergen got caught behind another skier and said she could not follow Kalla.

By the time she had room to maneuver, it was too late, because Kalla had built too large of a lead to make up, she added.

Kalla’s teammate, Ebba Andersson, barely missed a medal by finishing fourth.

Heidi Weng of Norway, who leads the World Cup standings, finished a distant ninth.

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