Marit Bjørgen: “I don’t see myself as a legend!”
At PyeongChang 2018, Marit Bjørgen became the most decorated Winter Games athlete of all time, having won 15 medals, including 8 golds. She joins the list of Norwegian greats with her famous predecessors Bjørn Daehlie and Ole Einar Bjørndalen. The cross-country skier with a record 18 world titles and 112 World Cup victories answers our questions on olympic.org to celebrate the anniversary of her winning her last Olympic title.
One year after the PyeongChang Games, what personal memories spring to mind?
Oh, definitely the 30km. That was my best race. The feeling on the course was incredible. My aim was to win another Olympic gold medal, and I managed to do that. I also knew that it was my last Olympic race. And that was a very emotional feeling. There was also the fact that I was there for three weeks, and I really missed my son. It was also highly emotional for me to be able to end my career like that.
And in terms of the organisation and atmosphere, what do you recall about these first Winter Games in South Korea?
They were really great Games for the athletes. Of course, you always hope for more spectators. I think that Korean spectators aren’t that familiar with skiing. There was lots of atmosphere for the sprint events, and we had plenty of support. When you’re an athlete, you kind of live in a bubble, but it’s important for us to have lots of people along the slopes for a big event like that. Otherwise, the slopes were very good. There were more people in Oslo at the end of the season, though.
You competed at the Games for the first time in 2002 in Salt Lake City. What do you think was the main difference between the Games in 2002 and 2018?
Oh! To be honest, I don’t remember it that well. I was young in 2002. [She was 19.] They were my first Games, and I still had a lot to learn. It was very different in PyeongChang. I pushed myself to win a medal in every race. But around the competitions, I felt that the atmosphere was quite similar in fact.
Looking back on your impressive career, is there something of which you are particularly proud?
I have had such a long career, and I am especially pleased that I have been able to practise my sport at the highest level for so many years. Skiing has become my profession. I am also glad to have had the mental strength to be able to give it my all. I have also been lucky to have had a very solid group behind me, supporting all this training. And I am also proud to have been able to excel in all the sprint distances up to the 30km. It has been an honour for me. But I have really been lucky to have been in peak fitness and had sufficient mental strength to get me through the successive stages.
You became the most decorated Winter Games athlete ever with your 15 medals. What does that mean to you? You have surpassed other great champions from Norway, Bjørn Daehlie and Einar Bjørndalen...
It’s difficult to see yourself as a legend. Bjørn Daehlie is really someone I have admired since I was a kid. As for Ole Einar, I followed his whole career. They both really inspired me. When I arrived in PyeongChang, I knew I could beat the Winter Games medal record. But I also knew that I had to stay focused on each race. Being the most successful Winter Games athlete is like a dream come true for me. But it wasn’t my goal when I arrived at the Games. I knew that it was possible, but it wasn’t my main concern. Of course, now I’ve beaten this record, it is a massive thing. It’s difficult to know if you’re a legend.
How is your life now that you have decided to put an end to your sporting career?
I am enjoying motherhood, and I’m going to have another son in March. I still do sport and I work a bit for one of my sponsors. I try to share my experience. I talk about my career and how I got there. I am also trying to learn how to become a coach. I’m learning the techniques and various aspects of the job. I’m also continuing to train. But I have to admit that my motivation levels haven’t been very high recently. I’m having a great time at the moment. I am so happy to be able to spend more time at home with my son and my family.
You say that you don’t train very much. What does that mean exactly?
Sometimes I go whole weeks without training, and sometimes I go out five times a week. Indeed, before Christmas, the snow conditions were really not good, and I had trouble getting motivated. When the snow came, it was much easier.
And in the future, do you want to get involved in the organisational side of your sport – either in your country or internationally?
I would like to become a coach. But at the moment I don’t want to travel too much. I prefer to stay at home. I might become a coach in the future, not necessarily working with elite athletes, but more with youngsters. To help them get to that elite level. That would be great for me. I have also stayed in touch with my team-mates from last year. I sometimes give them advice.
Finally, do you think the athletes’ voice is heard enough in your sport and particularly by the Olympic Games organisers?
I think that the organisers should listen more to the athletes’ voice. Not only the IOC, but also the FIS [International Ski Federation]. It’s true that we have our opinions, but I know that there are also other elements to take into account, such as TV and many other things. I think that, in the future, we should definitely listen more to the athletes.