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21 Feb 1988

Cross Country Skiing - Flying finn Matikainen produces golden flourish

In the late 1980s, Finland's Marjo Matikainen was considered by many to be the world's finest female skier.

Disappointingly, she could only manage 12th place in the 20km and then claimed a bronze in the 10km, but her main hopes had always rested on the 5km, for which she was the strong favourite.

However, she faced stiff competition from her Finnish team-mate Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen and the Soviet Union’s Tamara Tikhonova. Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen led at the 3.1km mark, but subsequently faded and eventually finished fifth.

Tikhonova proved a much more resilient adversary. At the 3.1km checkpoint, the Soviet athlete was just a second behind Matkainen and the pair remained tied together for the rest of the race, matching each other stride for stride in a titanic duel. Every time Tikhonova attempted to launch an attack Matkainen responded with a renewed burst of speed. As they rushed towards the finish, the Finn held on for victory by a second, collapsing with exhaustion as she crossed the line.

Matikainen added another bronze in the 4x5km relay to take her overall Olympic medal count to four. The 23-year-old seemed poised for years of dominance – but instead retired from the sport in order to study political science. She was later elected to the European Parliament and later to the Finnish Parliament.

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