Norway’s cross-country skier supreme
Having added yet more gold medals to an already glittering list of career achievements at the 2017 FIS Nordic Ski Championships, six-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion Marit Bjoergen has no intention of letting up at PyeongChang 2018.
In adding the 30km freestyle title to the 10km classic, 15km pursuit and 4x5m relay crowns she also won at the FIS Nordic Ski Championships in Lahti (FIN) in March 2017, Norway’s indomitable Marit Bjoergen took her combined total of Olympic and World Championship medals to 36, a tally no other athlete – male or female – can match in FIS disciplines.
Ten of those medals have come at the Olympic Winter Games (six of them gold, three silver and one bronze), which makes Bjoergen the joint most decorated female Winter Olympian of all time, along with fellow cross-country skiers Raisa Smetanina of the former Soviet Union and Italy’s Stefania Belmondo. Bjoergen has more golds than either, however.
The remaining 26 medals (18 golds, five silvers and three bronzes) are a world championship record, as is that tally of golds, four more than former Russian cross-country skier Yelena Välbe, second on the all-time list.
It started with the sprint
Bjoergen 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.
Bjoergen secured her maiden World Cup win later that year in the freestyle sprint in Dusseldorf (GER), while a maiden world title came her way the following year in the same event in Val di Fiemme (ITA).
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, Bjoergen expanded her repertoire to longer distances during the 2004/05 season, with yet more victories and podium finishes coming her way.
The greatest record in cross-country skiing
The Norwegian great began amassing her world championship medal collection at Oberstdorf (GER) in 2005, when she pocketed three golds, a silver and a bronze. She followed up with four golds and a silver in Oslo-Holmenkollen (NOR) in 2011, a haul she repeated in Val di Fiemme two years later and to which she has now added the four golds won in Lahti.
In the meantime, she has been just as prolific in the World Cup, taking the overall title in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2015, winning six small crystal globes and amassing 175 top-three finishes, including 110 individual wins – another outright record. Remarkably, however, it was not until Vancouver 2010 that she won her first Olympic gold.
Medal rush in Vancouver
After a disappointing Turin 2006, where stomach pains restricted her to just the one medal – a silver in the 10km classical – Bjoergen bounced back in style at the Whistler Olympic Park four years later, climbing on the podium in every event she entered.
She began with 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 XXI Olympic Winter Games and led to her also collecting the Holmenkollen Medal, the highest distinction Nordic skiing has to offer.
More gold in Sochi
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 Ostberg to gold in the women’s team sprint.
She saved the best till last, getting the better of compatriots Therese Johaug and Kristin Stormer Steira to win the blue riband 30km freestyle event at her fourth attempt. Bjoergen received her well-deserved gold medal in style, from IOC President Thomas Bach and before an adoring crowd of 40,000 spectators at the Closing Ceremony, held at the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
In winning her six Olympic title, the Norwegian equalled the cross-country skier Lyubov Yegorova and the speed skater Lidiya Skoblikova (both of whom represented the former Soviet Union), as the most prolific female gold medallists in the history of the Winter Games.
World Cup grand slam
Bjoergen began the 2014/15 FIS World Cup season by winning the one event absent from her extensive list of career honours: the Tour de Ski, the first leg of a World Cup grand slam that she completed by winning the distance and sprint crystal globes and the Nordic Opening title. Not surprisingly, the season ended with the Norwegian collection her fourth big crystal globe.
Speaking on Norwegian TV in April 2015, Bjoergen announced that she was taking time out for a very good reason: “I have a little bomb to drop here today: I’m going to be a mother in December. I plan to come back, though. My goal is the World Championships in Lahti.
On 26 December that year, she and partner Fred Borre Lundberg, the two-time Olympic Nordic combined champion, celebrated the arrival of a baby boy.
More to come at PyeongChang 2018?
True to her word, Bjoergen was back in competitive action before the following year was out, appearing in and winning an FIS 10km freestyle race in Beitostolen (NOR) in November 2016.
She made her World Cup return in Ruka (FIN) at the end of the month, scoring a win in the 10km classical. She secured the 106th World Cup victory of her career in the same event in Otepäa (EST) on 19 February 2017, the prelude to her four golds at the Worlds in Lahti, a haul that only German Nordic combined skier Johannes Rydzek could match.
Further World Cup success came her way late on in the season, including the last race of the campaign: the 10km pursuit in Québec (CAN) in mid March, her 110th individual race win.
Nicknamed “Gul Marit” (“Golden Marit”) for obvious reasons, the 36-year-old Bjoergen has every chance of extending that long list of Olympic titles at PyeongChang 2018.