Magnus and the Swedes put on a show at Birkebeineren
Republic of Korea’s Magnus Kim was the star of the men’s cross-country skiing competition at Lillehammer 2016, medalling in every event he contested and winning two titles, while highly promising Swedish duo Moa Lundgren and Johanna Hagström excelled in the women’s events.
The first day of cross-country skiing at Lillehammer 2016 saw the all-new cross free event make its Olympic debut, causing a frisson of excitement among competitors and spectators alike at the Birkebeineren Stadium.
After solitary qualification runs in the men’s and women’s events, held on a 1.5km course featuring a series of humps, hills, jumps, hairpins and even an uphill slalom, the young athletes then raced off in the semi-finals and finals.
© AFP / Laurent Kalfala for YIS/IOC
In a taste of things to come at Lillehammer 2016, Sweden’s Moa Lundgren comfortably prevailed in the women’s race from her compatriot Johanna Hagström and France’s Laura Chamiot-Maitral, while Republic of Korea’s Magnus Kim proved every bit as dominant in the men’s race, taking the line ahead of Norway’s Thomas Helland Larsen and Finland’s Lauri Manilla.
Reacting to her gold-medal win, 17-year-old Moa Lundgren said, “It means the world to me”. Giving her view on the new event, she added: “It’s really fun because it’s something new, something different, otherwise you just go into the woods and come back. This is a little bit more fun, to do something like ski and jump.”
For his part, Magnus, who was sporting a distinctive high-ponytail for the occasion, said: “I don't have that much experience [in cross-country cross free], but I think I managed it in a good way. Today was one of my big days where everything goes well. It was a perfect start.”
Magnus catches up with old friends
“It's going to be cool to see Korea competing against Norway in senior years,” said Norway’s Vebjörn Hegdal after watching Magnus beat him to gold in the 10km free, the Korean then going on take silver in the sprint classic behind Thomas but in front of Vebjörn once more.
Born to a Korean mother and a Norwegian father, Magnus spent part of his childhood in Norway, making close friends with some of the skiers he came up against in Lillehammer.
Discussing his friendship with the young Korean, sprint classic winner Thomas said: “It gives me a feeling of safety to be at the start line alongside such a good friend in a big race like this. However, we know each other so well that we are fully aware of what the other is capable of, both strengths and weaknesses.”
Future bright for Sweden
While Republic of Korea showed that they could well become a force to be reckoned with in world cross-country skiing, Sweden’s women served notice that they may be about to resume their old rivalry with Norway.
Second in the cross free, Johanna Hagström turned in a commanding performance in the sprint classic, heading the field in the qualification round before winning her quarter-final, semi-final and then the final, where she cruised home 2.4 seconds clear of Russia’s Yuliya Petrova and 3.27 of Norway’s Martine Engebretsen.
Moa and Johanna’s superb displays bode well for Swedish women’s cross-country skiing at senior level, following several years of Norwegian domination of the FIS World Cup circuit.
Johanna Hagstroem SWE © Thomas Lovelock for YIS/IOC
The only event Sweden’s women failed to medal in was the 5km free classic, in which China’s Chi Chunxue clocked a time of 13:29.9 after going out second of the 40 starters. Chi was still in the lead by the time the penultimate starter, Russia’s Maya Yakunina, hit the course.
The Chinese’s athlete’s dream of taking gold ended, however, when Maya crossed the line over 31 seconds faster, though Chi did have the consolation of landing her country’s first ever Olympic cross-country skiing medal. The bronze went to Finland’s Rebecca Immonen.