Switzerland won four Olympic gold medals in cross-country skiing - all thanks to Dario Cologna. In addition, the Santa Maria Val Müstair Champion accomplished a unique feat in the PyeongChang 2018 Games, winning the 15 km to become the first skier to make his mark three times over the same distance at the Games.
Which moment in the fabulous career of Dario Cologna, son of Val Müstair in the canton of Grisons, do we choose? The first Olympic title over 15 km Freestyle in Vancouver in 2010 with a lead of more than 24 seconds over Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer at the finish line?
The second in 2014 in Sochi, this time in the Classic, marked by a historic day for the Engadin region, a 14 February where Romansch "neighbours", Sandro Viletta, Olympic Champion in the Alpine combination and Selina Gasparin, silver medallist in the individual biathlon, were also victorious on the podium? Not to mention Dario Cologna also winning the skiathlon several days earlier in Sochi?
Or the third over 15 km, again Freestyle, on 16 February 2018 in PyeongChang, which made the 31-year-old skier the only skier in history to complete an Olympic hat-trick over the same distance?
Let's start by looking at this victory in more detail.
In the Alpensia stage, during the PyeongChang Games, after having been the flag bearer for his delegation during the Opening Ceremony, Dario Cologna began by being let loose in the final of the skiathlon, in which he held the title, he finished 6th in the event marked by a podium hat-trick by the Norwegians.
"In terms of writing a page of history, it's not bad at all!"
However, five days later, Friday 16 February, he created a true festival over a sunny 15 km, which he contested this time in freestyle. Leading all intermediate times after the 6 km mark, super powerful and uttering a resounding cry of rage in the finish area, Cologna won undisputed with a lead of more than 18 seconds over the winner of the skiathlon, Simen Hegstad Krueger.
There he was, a quadruple Olympic Champion, having won all of his country's gold medals in cross-country skiing at the Winter Games. He is the first cross-country skier to win three times in a row over the same distance. With his four Olympic titles, he joins gymnast Georges Miez and jumper Simon Ammann in the hall of fame of the most successful athletes of his country in summer and winter.
Such artistry. It's simple: only Björn Daehlie won more individual titles (6) at the Games than Cologna among the cross-country skiers, which shows the scale of his performance. "That's not too bad, it's unbelievable. It was really hard work, and I really wanted to win here after Vancouver and Sochi," he said enthusiastically. "I still cannot believe that I am the winner. Taking three titles in this event, four gold medals, means I join Simon Ammann, the other Swiss athlete who won four times at the Winter Games. "In terms of writing a page of history, it's not bad at all!"
Big wins at the World Cup and the Games for a Swiss cross-country skier.
Gifted in sport from an early age, Dario Cologna turned to cross-country skiing at the age of 12 in his valley, east of the canton of Grisons. He stood out from his junior years, notably taking a bronze medal in the 10 km Classic at the 2006 World Championships in Kranj (Slovenia) and making his World Cup début the same year, at 20 years old. After two seasons of learning at the highest international level, Dario made history in his country by winning the 3rd edition of the FIS Ski Tour on 4 January 2009, then the general classification of the 2008-2009 World Cup. He is the first Swiss athlete to achieve these accolades.
In the autumn of 2009, whilst preparing for the Olympic season, Dario Cologna suffered a muscle tear in his right thigh. He had to take a six-week break, forcing him to focus exclusively on the Vancouver Olympic Games. On 15 February 2010, he magnificently dominated the 15 km Freestyle on the Whistler course, relegating Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer to 24.6 and Czech Lukas Bauer to 35.7 to become the first Swiss Olympic Champion in cross-country skiing.
Dario Cologna became the world number one in his sport by winning the large FIS crystal globes at the end of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons, embellished with small globes for the distance. At the same time, he took two new victories in the Ski Tour. In 2012, his total of 2,216 points in the World Cup general classification was the highest ever achieved by a cross-country skier. Dario Cologna was voted "Swiss Athlete of the Year" in 2012. The following year, on 23 February 2013 in Val Di Fiemme (Italy), he won his first World Champion title on the finish line of the skiathlon (2 x 15 km).
See you in 2022 in Beijing?
As in 2009, Dario Cologna believed he would lose everything when he injured his right ankle whilst jogging in mid-November 2013. He once again had to miss the start of the World Cup season and bet everything on the Sochi Games without any guarantees. Arriving without markers on the slopes of the Laura complex, but fresher than his opponents, he triumphed in the skiathlon on 9 February, ahead of Swede Marcus Hellner and Norwegian Johnsrud Sundby thanks to an unstoppable start in the last mogul. Five days later, he was once again Olympic Champion over 15 km, this time in the Classic, by taking advantage of the competition and allowing himself to sprint in the final straight against Swede Johan Olsson who set off 30 seconds ahead of him! He was voted "Best Swiss Athlete of the Year".
He opted for ankle surgery at the end of the 2013-2014 season in order to be able to set off in better health towards new timescales. He then won his 4th FIS World Cup general classification at the end of winter 2014-2015. Celebrating his 30th birthday on 11 March 2016, he was rather quiet afterwards, battling with injuries, but he issued a warning to the competition one month ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Games by winning the Ski Tour for the fourth time, six years after his last victory in this event.
He then claimed a masterful victory on 16 February 2018 in the Olympic stadium in Alpensia.
Dario Cologna continues his career and has not yet planned his retirement. At 33, with his 15 starts in three editions of the Olympic Games, six World Championships contested since 2009, more than 250 World Cup starts with 26 wins and 72 podium positions and eight large and small crystal globes, he is not closing the door on the Beijing Games in 2022 - quite the contrary. "I still love what I do," he said at the start of the 2019-2020 season. "The question of my retirement has never been seriously raised. How long will I continue? It remains open as long as my health permits. But I'm not just here for this winter, because in a way, the 2022 Games haunt me."