On 21 February 2018, Norway's Marit Bjoergen cemented her place in the Pantheon of the greatest Winter Olympians. Her bronze in the women’s cross-country team sprint took her medals total to 14 (seven of them gold), surpassing the previous benchmark set by her compatriot, biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. She still needs one win to match his tally of eight golds.
With the 30km classic mass start still to come, she has the perfect chance to do just that and provide PyeongChang 2018 with a grandstand finale. That would leave her position at the top of the all-time medal rankings beyond dispute, ahead of of Bjoerndalen (13 medals; eight of them golds), Dutch speed skater Ireen Wuust (11 medals; five golds) and her fellow Norwegian cross-country legend Bjoern Daehlie (eight medals; six golds).
Bjoergen readily admitted that the thought of making history had crossed her mind ahead of the event. “I had a dream about [breaking the record], but you never know,” she said. “My goal was fighting for one individual gold and I don't have it yet, I still have the possibility to do it, so we'll see.”
"I've taken medals in every race I've been in, so I'm happy with that," she added.
The Norwegian has so far collected a gold (4x5km relay), silver (15km skiathlon) and two bronze medals (10km freestyle and team sprint) at PyeongChang 2018, which is her fifth Olympic Winter Games.
“I think it's hard to understand,” she reflected in the immediate aftermath of her record-breaking medal. “I think when I've stopped skiing I can think about what I have done," she reflected.
While waiting to take her place on the podium, Bjoergen had an unimpeded view of her compatriot Johannes Klaebo as he crossed the line to win the men's team sprint event and take his third gold of his debut Games. At just 21, he may one day mount a challenge to Bjoergen's new record, although it will be many years before he or anyone else comes close to her benchmark.
“Johannes is a young guy and everything is possible for him,” said Bjoergen with a characteristic generosity of spirit. “He's amazing; he has three golds here, he's a very good guy for the future. We will see more of him.”
Bjoergen made her Olympic debut – and won her first medal (a silver in the 4x5km relay) way back in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
“If someone had told me in 2002 that I would be still standing here, still skiing here, I'd have thought that it's not possible, but I am here and I'm still fighting for medals,” she said.
Asked which of her triumphs was her favourite to date, the 37-year-old had no hesitation in picking one out.
“My first gold individual, in Vancouver,” she replied. “[That] was special because I had some problems for three years, and then come back again and was at a high level and fighting for all the medals in Vancouver, that was special for me.”
And with that, she set off to prepare for yet another special moment – her sights set on an eighth gold on 25 February.