Queen of the Winter GamesThe winner of three gold medals at Sochi 2014, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen now has ten Olympic medals to her name, as many as fellow cross-country greats Raisa Smetanina of the Soviet Union and Italy’s Stefania Belmondo. Her stunning treble also took her gold medal tally to six, level with Russian cross-country skier Lyubov Yegorova and Soviet speed skater Lidiya Skoblikova. Overall, she is now the most successful female Winter Olympian of all time
It started with the sprint Marit Bjørgen has won everything there is to win since embarking on her international career as a 19-year-old in 1999. The first of her ten Olympic medals was a silver in the women’s 4x5km team relay at Salt Lake City 2002, when she formed part of a Norwegian quartet also featuring Bente Skari, Helde Pedersen and Anita Moan. She secured her maiden World Cup win later that year in the freestyle sprint in Dusseldorf, while a first world title came Bjørgen’s way the following year in the same event in Val di Fiemme. Though she started out as a sprint specialist and scored her first ten career wins in the freestyle and classical events thanks to her explosive power, Bjørgen expanded her repertoire to longer distances during the 2004/05 season, with even more victories and podium finishes coming her way.
The greatest record in women’s cross-country skiing As of May 2014, no less than 19 of those victories had come in at the world championships. In Oberstdorf in 2005 she pocketed three golds, a silver and a bronze, following up with four golds and a silver in Oslo-Holmenkollen in 2011, a haul she repeated in Val di Fiemme two years later. In the meantime, she has been just as prolific in the World Cup, taking the overall title in 2005, 2008 and 2012, winning six small crystal globes and amassing more than 100 top-three finishes in individual events and 35 in team races. If anything, however, those achievements were topped by the golden treble she secured at Vancouver 2010.
Medal rush in VancouverAfter a disappointing Turin 2006, where stomach pains restricted her to just the one medal – a silver in the 10km classical – Bjørgen bounced back in style at the Whistler Olympic Park four years later, climbing onto the podium in every event she entered. She began with a bronze in the 10km freestyle and then won three golds in a row (in the sprint, the 15km pursuit and the 4x5km team relay) before taking silver in the 30km classical, an event in which she finished just 0.3 seconds behind Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk. That impressive haul made her the most successful female athlete of the 2010 Winter Games and led to her also collecting the Holmenkollen Medal, the highest distinction a Norwegian skier can receive.
Crowned in Sochi By the end of the 2013/14 season Bjørgen had taken her total number of FIS World Cup wins to a massive 66. Her form undimmed by the time Sochi 2014 came around, the Norwegian great successfully defended her Olympic 15km pursuit title and then partnered Ingvild Flugstad Østberg to gold in the women’s team sprint. She saved the best until last, getting the better of her two compatriots Therese Johaug and Kristin Størmer Steira to win the blue riband 30km freestyle event at her fourth attempt. Having taken over as the greatest female Winter Olympian in history, “Queen Marit” may well extend her reign at PyeongChang 2018.