KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – Marit Bjoergen became the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history Saturday by leading a Norwegian sweep in the women’s 30-km cross-country ski race at the Sochi Games.
Bjoergen won her sixth Olympic gold, to go with three silvers and a bronze. Her career total of 10 puts her ahead of Russian cross-country skier Lyubov Egorova, who had six golds and three silvers.
Two other women — Stafania Belmondo of Italy and Soviet skier Raisa Smetanina — also have 10 medals in cross-country, but fewer golds.
The Norwegian women finally displayed their dominance of the sport on Sunday, as Bjoergen pulled away from teammate Therese Johaug heading into the stadium and sprinted alone to win her third gold of the Sochi Olympics.
She also won three gold medals in Vancouver.
Johaug took silver and Kristin Stoermer Steira was third. The three Norwegians pulled away after the 10-km mark and then built a lead of more than a minute on the rest of the field.
“It’s incredible. We’re all Norwegian and we’re all on the podium,” Bjoergen said. “This has been a goal for me for a long time. I thought the 30K would be hard but I’ve felt very good in the last days.”
Steira couldn’t keep pace in the final uphill section, and Johaug didn’t have an answer when Bjoergen made her move.
“I knew that I am stronger than them in the sprints, so I was waiting for them to attack on the last climb,” Bjoergen said. “Therese upped her speed and I just followed her, then I passed her.”
Kerttu Niskanen of Finland was fourth, 1 minute, 21.7 seconds back.
It was a perfect finish for the Norwegian team after the women’s relay last weekend, when the heavily favored team finished fifth. The team blamed that result — and the men’s fourth-place finish a day later — on having failed to find the right wax setup for the skis in the warm weather conditions. It led to a mini-crisis for the ski-crazed nation — until Bjoergen led Norway to gold in the team sprint on Wednesday.
“We weren’t that good in the relay so we showed today that we are the best,” Bjoergen said.
It was clear from Saturday’s race that the team now has sorted out the waxing problem — especially since all three medalists opted not to change skis to a freshly waxed pair at either the 10K or 20K mark.
That helped build the initial gap as many of their closest rivals did change after 10K, but they all quickly fell further behind the Norwegians despite having a fresh pair.
Charlotte Kalla, who led Sweden to gold in the relay and won two individual silvers in Sochi, ran out of energy shortly after the 10K mark and finished 34th, more than five minutes behind. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, who won the 10K classical race despite skiing with a foot fracture, pulled out around the halfway mark when she was more than 30 seconds back.
For Steira, it was her first individual Olympic medal after four fourth-place finishes at previous games.
“Finally,” she said. “I’ve tried so many times and finally I succeed and get a medal. It’s amazing, I don’t think words can explain. … Right now I’m smiling all the way but when I crossed the finish line, I felt emotional.”