Red letter day15 February has a talismanic significance in the life of Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla. It was on that very day in 2010 that she made her Olympic debut, in the 10km freestyle in Vancouver. Starting 31st, she simply blew the rest of the field away, leading at every split and finishing a full 6.6 seconds clear of the defending champion, Kristina Smigun-Vaehi of Estonia, and more than 15 seconds ahead of Norway’s Marit Bjørgen.
Kalla’s victory opened Sweden’s gold medal account at Vancouver and was the country’s first individual cross-country skiing title at the Winter Games since Grenoble 1968, when Toini Gustafsson collected two golds.
Four years to the day later, the 26-year-old Kalla found herself anchoring for Sweden in the 4x5km relay at Sochi, in a team that also featured Ida Ingemarsdotter, Emma Wiken and Anna Haag. By the time she took over from Haag, Kalla had a 27-second deficit to make up on Finland and Germany, with Krista Lahteenmaki and Denise Hermann fighting it out for the lead on the last leg.
Finding some searing pace, Kalla caught up with the two frontrunners at the top of the last climb and then burst clear to be embraced by her ecstatic team-mates at the finish line. In tribute to her stunning performance, Pajala Airport – situated in her native province of Norrbotten – changed its name to Kalla International Airport that same day.
A full houseKalla has three silver medals to go with her two golds, landing the first in the team sprint with Anna Haag at Vancouver 2010, the second behind Bjørgen in the 15km skiathlon at Sochi 2014, and the third in finishing runner-up to Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk in the 10km classical a few days later. Her five-medal haul makes her Sweden’s most successful Olympic cross-country skier of all time.
A national treasure“I fell in love with cross-country skiing straightaway,” said Kalla, who hails from the northern village of Tarendo, where she first put on skis at the age of seven. Since winning the world junior skiathlon title at Kranj (SLO) in February 2006, she has gone on to become her country’s No1 cross-country skier.
Victorious in the 2008 FIS Ski Tour, she won the world team sprint title with Ingemarsdotter in Oslo in 2011, and as of 31 March 2014 she has amassed 23 individual World Cup podium finishes (three of them wins) and ten top-three placings in team races. “It’s a real privilege for me to dedicate myself to sport full-time. It’s a dream come true,” said Kalla, who will hope to improve her already impressive Olympic record at PyeongChang 2018.