Norway’s Marit Bjoergen provided a fitting climax to the sports programme at PyeongChang 2018 and her own 16-year Olympic career, as she won the 102nd and final medal event of the Games to reinforce her status as the most successful Winter Olympian of all time.
The Norwegian quite literally blew the rest of the field off the snow in the women’s 30km mass start, taking command of the gruelling endurance race early on, and leading from the front throughout.
It was fitting that the 37-year-old, who a few days earlier had taken her overall medal tally to 14 to be come the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, should provide such a powerful display to win a record-equalling eighth gold medal. In doing so she moved along side her compatriots Ole Einer Bjoerndalen and Bjoern Daehlie, each of whom also managed eight titles.
Able to relax as she skied into the stadium, there was plenty of time for “the Iron Lady” to grab a Norwegian flag and bask in the applause. She crossed the line with a finishing time of 22.214.171.124, although that was almost incidental in the grand scheme of things.
The podium was an all-Scandinavian affair. Finland’s Krista Parmakoski finished 1.49.5 behind Bjoergen to take silver– her third medal of PyeongChang 2018. Meanwhile Stine Nilsson of Sweden edged Bjoergen’s compatriot Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg out of the bronze medal position to take her own personal tally to three medals.
Written in the snow
The 37-year-old history-makerwas clearly in no mood to let anyone else share the limelight or the headlines, as she took control of her final appearance on the Olympic stage in a way that has rarely been witnessed.
Her final victory almost seemed to be written in the snow. The Norwegian had already amassed four medals at PyeongChang 2018, but this was the one she really wanted; the 30km was the one gold that was missing from her personal collection.
“I came to these Olympics to fight for one individual gold medal and I didn't have it before, the 30km,” she confirmed.“I knew that was the distance for me and I like these conditions.I knew that I had good skis on these conditions, I knew everything was there for me if I had a good body.”
If the chasing group of Sweden's Charlotte Kalla, Finns Parmakoski and Kerttu Niskanen and Teresa Stadlober of Austria harboured hopes that Bjoergen might burn out and then fade away, they were in vain. Instead she built up a lead of almost a minute by the halfway mark.
Rather than tiring, Bjoergen continued to increase her lead. As Niskanen and Kalla faded from contention, another Swede Stina Nilsson– who won the individual sprint medal and took silver in the team sprint – emerged from the pack to battle for the other podium places.
A remarkable legacy
Speaking immediately after the race, Bjoergen was understandably thrilled with her performance, but said it was too soon to reflect on the true significance of her achievements.
“I've had an amazing day, today my skis were good and it was special, the last 100 metres by myself there and I understand that I'd win the gold medalBjoergen Marit Norway
“When I look behind me and see what I have done, it's incredible. It has been an amazing career for me, this is my last Olympics and to finish like this is incredible.”
“It's been incredible for me to have five Olympics and 15 medals like that, it's hard to understand actually, I think I need some moments by myself and see what I've done and look behind me.”
Bjoergen has yet to decide whether she will call time on her career at the end of the season or continue for one more campaign. One thing is clear: once she does hang up her skis, Norway and the world of winter sports at large, will be left with a very large void to fill, however Bjoergen remains confident that the future is bright for both.
“The future is good for Norway, they've always got younger athletes who are coming up and I think that's the reason why we are so good, that we always have some new people who are coming up and they have some idols to see.
“After these Olympics maybe we get some more boys and girls coming up. If they do cross-country or something else, Alpine skiing or skating, it looks good for the future.”
There is little doubt, that through her achievements on the snow, and her conduct and reputation off it, Bjoergen has played a large part in helping to secure that legacy.