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PyeongChang is set for an almighty battle in 2018, as two of the greatest winter Olympians of all time face off in the quest for a record-breaking tally of Olympic medals. On one side stands biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who will be 44 years old when he looks to add to his eight titles and 13 podium finishes – the most ever claimed by a winter Olympian. On the other is Marit Bjoergen, the first-ever female athlete at the Olympic Winter Games to win 10 medals, including six golds. With so many records to her name, surpassing her fellow Norwegian’s record is one of her main motivations.
“I realised I was only three medals behind Ole Einar and now I’ve got that in my sights. It’s motivating but it’s not a goal, it’s a dream. These will be my last Games but he’ll be there too and he could also win gold,” said Bjoergen of her fellow Norwegian.
Despite her impressive medal haul, Bjoergen believes there have been some lost chances along the way since her first Olympic medal, a silver in the relay at Salt Lake City 2002. “Being selected for the relay in 2002 was huge, way beyond what I was hoping for,” she said of her first Olympic experience.
“In 2006 in Turin I was ill and could only win silver in the 10km classic. In 2010 in Vancouver I’d say it was ideal,” continued the multiple Olympic champion. The cross-country queen claimed five medals, including three golds.
“At Sochi 2014, we had problems with our skis in the snow conditions, which I think cost me a couple of medals,” said Bjoergen of her most recent Olympic outing. Her main focus was the skiathlon, in which she won gold, but due to the team’s ski issues, she won “only” three gold medals in Russia, adding the 30k and team sprint titles to her collection.
With a little more luck, she could have already been level with Bjoerndalen. “It’s annoying. But that’s how the Games go!” said Bjoergen philosophically.
Since 2003, the Norwegian veteran has earned 110 wins and 175 podium finishes, far and away the most FIS World Cup individual victories of any athlete. In the sprint event alone, where she first made her breakthrough, she has racked up an incredible 30 victories. In addition, Bjoergen has 12 Crystal Globes to her name, including four overall titles in 2005, 2006, 2012 and 2015.
I’m a competitor. I always want more. I know what I need to do to get satisfaction and success. But it’s getting harder. Marit Bjoergen Norway
I’m a competitor. I always want more. I know what I need to do to get satisfaction and success. But it’s getting harder.
“I’m a competitor. I always want more. I know what I need to do to get satisfaction and success. But it’s getting harder,” said “Gold Marit”, as she is known in her home country. Nevertheless, she left the 2017 World Championships as the most successful athlete of the competition with four gold medals, for the 10km classic, skiathlon, 30km skate and the 4x5km relay.
After winning the World Cup “Grand Slam” in 2014/15, when she scooped all three Crystal Globes (overall, sprint and distance) as well as the Tour de Ski and the Nordic Opening, Bjoergen took 18 months out from the sport as she and her husband Fred Børre Lundberg had their first child, son Marius.
It did not hold her back and she proved to be as unstoppable as ever on her return to competition. At the 2017 World Championships, she claimed one of the few remaining records she had yet to break in the sport, becoming the most titled and most medalled athlete at the Cross-Country Ski World Championships. The previous record, held by Russian skier Elena Valbe, was a mere 14 victories, whereas Bjoergen now holds 18 gold medals and 26 podium finishes in total. To round off the season, she won the World Cup Finals in Quebec and then returned home to become double Norwegian champion.
Bjorgen’s proudest Olympic moment, though, remains her first individual title for the sprint at Vancouver 2010. “That was when I realised I was strong enough to win gold,” she said of her victory.
In PyeongChang, she will be on a Norwegian team where her team-mates are at least 10 years younger, yet her nation will stand behind her in her quest to win even more medals and to challenge her only rival: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.