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To the vociferous spectators who flocked to the Birkebeineren Cross-Country Stadium to see the ladies’ sprint classic, there was never any doubt that Sweden’s Johanna Hagstroem was going to make the race her own after her commanding performances through qualification, quarter-finals and semi-finals, where she came first each time.
Hagstroem won the final with the fastest time of the day at three minutes, 19.55 seconds and proved strong from the start, powerful on the hills, and steady at the finish, despite her nerves. “I’m always nervous when I’m about to start, but I had a feeling today that I could go all the way and it’s been so great to do that,” she said.
“Of course, it’s challenging. I think that first hill is really tough, because you don’t want to be tired when you reach the top and the others are pushing up, and I felt like I wanted to take that first hill slow, so that was hard, but it was so fun.”
In the lead from the early moments of each of her races on Tuesday, Hagstroem - who also won the silver medal in the ladies’ cross-country free on Saturday (13 February) - revealed that this was not always the case. “Normally, I wouldn’t say that my starts are my strength. Last year my start wasn’t good at all, so I’m happy with this,” she said.
Russia’s Yuliya Petrova finished 2.4 seconds behind Hagstroem to claim the silver medal in 3:21.95, while Martine Engebretsen of Norway took the bronze in 3:22.82.
The men’s final came down to a nail-biting finish, with Thomas Helland Larsen of Norway winning in 2:55.39, with Republic of Korea’s Magnus Kim coming in 0.33 seconds behind in 2:55.72 to take the silver medal. Another Norwegian, Vebjoern Hegdal, fnished in third place, in 2:56.49.
Republic of Korea's Magnus Kim (Silver), is joined on the podium by Norwegian pair Thomas Helland Larsen (Gold) and Vebjoern Hegdal (Bronze)
“In the final it was full steam from the start, I just managed to catch up with him before the last hill and it ended in a sprint,” said Larsen.
Kim, whose mother is Korean and father Norwegian, lives in Norway but competes for the Republic of Korea. Larsen and Kim are good friends and have known each other since 8th grade, attending junior high and high school together, as well as skiing with the same club.
“Magnus is a perfectionist. He is dedicated to what he does and he learns quickly. I have a lot to learn from him and vice versa, and together we get better,” said Larsen.
Tuesday’s results swapped the first two places from Saturday’s men’s cross-country free final, where Kim won gold and Larsen silver.
“It gives me a feeling of safety to be at the start line alongside such a good friend in a big race like this,” Larsen said. “However, we know each other so well that we are fully aware of what the other is capable of, both strengths and weaknesses.”
Kim added: “Thomas is a special kind of guy. He is thinking outside the box and tears down barriers sometimes, for example double poling, he does that a lot and he’s fast. He is all about the details, a proper perfectionist.”
With a gold and silver each, it sounds as though these two perfectionist pals are having the time of their lives at Lillehammer 2016.
Written by YIS / IOC SALLY O’BRIEN, with IOC Young Reporter Vegard Anders Skorpen
Sally O’Brien is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. An author with the Lonely Planet series of travel books, Sally has more than 15 years experience as a journalist. She covered the Innsbruck 2012 and Nanjing 2014 YOGs, as well as the Torino 2006 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.