Sweden’s cross-country superstar
Over the course of three appearances at the Olympic Winter Games, Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla has become her country’s most successful female cross-country skier of all time. Curiously, she has won two of her three golds and one of her six silvers on the very same day, 15 February, at four-year intervals.
Red letter day
15 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 she became the country’s first individual cross-country skiing champion at the Winter Games since Grenoble 1968, when Toini Gustafsson collected two golds.
Four years to the day later, 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.
Five days after claiming the first gold of PyeongChang 2018 with a majestic display in the 15km skiathlon, Kalla continued her happy knack of winning Olympic medals on 15 February. On this occasion she picked up a silver in the 10km freestyle, finishing 20 seconds behind Norway’s Ragnhild Haga and a little over 10 seconds clear of joint bronze medallists Bjørgen and Krista Parmakoski of Finland. In doing so, Kalla became the first skier to win three consecutive medals in the event.
Nine olympic medals
Hailing from the northern village of Tarendö, where she took up her sport at the age of seven, Kalla had taken her haul of Olympic medals to nine by the time she left the Republic of Korea (three golds and six silvers). As well as joining fellow cross-country skier Sixten Jernberg as her country’s most decorated Winter Olympian, Kalla is also Sweden’s most successful female Olympian of all time.
Aside from the two golds she won at her first two Olympic Games, Kalla claimed three silvers: in the team sprint with Anna Haag at Vancouver 2010, and the 15km skiathlon and 10km classical at Sochi 2014. Her two other visits to the second step of the podium came in PyeongChang, alongside Anna Haag, Ebba Andersson and Stina Nilsson in the 4x5km, and with Nilsson again in a thrilling team sprint won by the USA.
Sweden’s undisputed number one
“I got the hang of cross-country skiing straightaway,” said Kalla, discussing her love for her sport. “The lifestyle of a skier and the fact you have to train twice a day is no sacrifice for me. It’s something I love, something I look for, every day and all year round.”
After winning the world junior skiathlon title in Kranj (SLO) in February 2006, Kalla quickly established herself as Sweden’s leading cross-country skier. Her many triumphs outside the Olympic arena include an FIS Tour de Ski crown in 2008, the Nordic Opening in 2018, a world team spring crown with Ida Ingemarsdotter in Oslo in 2011, and a world 10km freestyle gold won on home snow in Falun in 2015.
Her total of 12 World Championship medals includes four consecutive 4x5km relay silvers between 2011 and 2017. In the World Cup, meanwhile, she has amassed no fewer than 55 individual podium finishes – 11 of them wins, as of the end of the 2017/18 season – and 11 top-three finishes in team events.
“I’m living my dream by having the privilege of taking part in sport full time,” said the Swedish legend, who at the age of 30 has yet to contemplate the end of her career and may yet make a fourth Olympic appearance at Beijing 2022.