The heroes of PyeongChang 2018
The XXIII Olympic Winter Games produced no shortage of sporting heroes, from seasoned athletes who wrote their names in Olympic history with amazing feats and multiple medals to newcomers who announced themselves to the world with their stunning performances.
With 110 World Cup victories, 18 world titles and more Olympic titles to her name than any other female athlete, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen had long since established herself as the queen of the snow by the time PyeongChang 2018 got under way. And 3“Golden Marit” further reinforced her legendary status at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre, ending her Olympic career aged 37 on the highest possible note by cruising to victory in the 30km classical on the final day of the Winter Games to win her eighth Olympic title.
Bjørgen’s five-medal haul at PyeongChang 2018 was more than any other athlete achieved. She collected two bronzes, in the 10km freestyle and the team sprint with Maiken Caspersen Falla, and a silver in the skiathlon. Her seventh Olympic gold came in the 4x5km relay, alongside team-mates Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen and Ragnhild Haga,
The Norwegian’s career total of 15 medals is a record for the Olympic Winter Games, two more than the previous best set by her compatriot biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen at Sochi 2014. Meanwhile, winning eight golds is a total matched only by Bjørndalen and Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie. “It’s been amazing for me to compete in five Olympic Games and win these 15 medals,” said Bjorgen following her 30km win. “I still can’t quite believe it. I think I need a little more time to let it sink in and to realise what I’ve done, to look back at it all.”
Ledecká and Ter Mors score historic doubles
The world of Alpine skiing was shaken to the core on the morning of 17 February, when Ester Ledecká of the Czech Republic, better known for her snowboarding prowess, belied a lowly starting position of 26th in the women’s super-G to beat defending champion Anna Veith by a hundredth of a second. Never higher than 19th in the event in the World Cup and no higher than seventh in the downhill in the 2017/18 season, the Czech was clearly as surprised as anyone as she crossed the line to win gold.
In week two the multi-talented Ledecká turned her attention to her speciality event: the parallel giant slalom, in which she was the reigning world champion, with a string of wins in the lead-up to PyeongChang 2018. In defeating Germany’s Selina Jörg in the final, she became the first athlete in history to win gold medals in different disciplines at the same Winter Games. Playing down her stunning achievement, Ledecká said: “The superstar of these Games? I don’t feel that way, but it does sound good, that’s for sure.”
Also breaking new ground was speed skater Jorien ter Mors of the Netherlands, who won the women’s 1,000m on 14 February to take the third speed skating gold of her Olympic career. The Dutchwoman also competed in the short track events, as she did at Sochi 2014, linking up six days later with Suzanne Schulting, Yara van Kherkof and Lara van Ruijven to set a new world record in the B Final of the women’s 3,000m relay. With only two teams completing the A Final, that performance earned the Netherlands team a bronze, making Ter Mors the first female athlete to win medals in two different disciplines at the same Olympic Winter Games, an achievement that Ledecká would eclipse four days later.
Klaebo and Fourcade show their golden touch
Norway’s latest cross-country skiing sensation Johannes Høsflot Klaebo was one of just two athletes to win three golds at PyeongChang 2018. Aged only 21, he became the youngest ever Olympic champion to win the sprint, claimed gold in the team sprint with Martin Johnsrud Sundby and was part of the winning 4x10km relay team. He is the youngest athlete to win three titles at the Winter Games.
The other athlete to make it to the top of the Olympic podium three times in 2018 was French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who forfeited a fourth gold when he missed his 19th and 20th shots in the individual 20km, a race he seemed to have won. His country’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony, Fourcade recorded a stylish victory in the pursuit, won the mass start by a ski tip from Germany’s Simon Schempp and produced a superb anchor leg to seal gold for France in the mixed relay. The winner of two golds at Sochi 2014, his collection of five is the most by a French athlete in Olympic history while he equalled Jean-Claude Killy’s French record of winning three golds at the same Winter Olympics.
Also in biathlon, Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier achieved a unique feat of her own by winning the sprint and pursuit in the space of only 24 hours, while Belarus’ Darya Domracheva tasted victory with her team-mates in the women’s relay to win her fourth Winter Games gold and become the most decorated woman in her sport.
The Dutch cemented their status as the kings of speed skating by taking gold in seven of the 14 events held at the Gangneung Oval. Leading the way for them were two legends of the discipline. The first was Ireen Wüst, who won the 1,500m to continue her record of collecting medals in the distance at every Winter Games since Turin 2006. She also added silvers in the 3,000m and team pursuit to take her Olympic career tally to 11 medals – five of them golds – more than any other athlete in her sport, male or female.
The other Dutch legend to excel at PyeongChang 2018 was Sven Kramer, who retained his 5,000m title for a second time and picked up a bronze in the team pursuit. Those two medals took his career haul to nine, more than any other male speed skater.
The USA’s Shaun White was another repeat champion. At the age of 31, he regained the snowboard halfpipe title he won at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010, while Switzerland’s Dario Cologna won his third Olympic cross-country skiing 15km crown in a row. Also earning a place in Olympic history was Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the first figure skater to retain the men’s singles title since Dick Button in 1952 and the 1,000th medal event winner in the history of the Olympic Winter Games. Polish ski jumper Kamil Stoch was another athlete to successfully defend a title, becoming the first man to retain the large hill crown since Matti Nykänen achieved the feat in 1988, and only the third to do so in history.
Worth the wait for Hirscher
Austria’s Marcel Hirscher was one legend without an Olympic title to their name prior to PyeongChang 2018. The winner of 55 World Cup races and a record six consecutive large crystal globes in Alpine skiing, Hirscher set that record straight in style, prevailing in the Alpine combined and then winning the giant slalom. In winning the men’s downhill, meanwhile, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal became Alpine skiing’s oldest gold medallist at the age of 35. It was the Norwegian’s second career gold, after the super-G at Vancouver 2010, and his fourth medal in all.
Among the other stars to depart PyeongChang 2018 with more than one medal in their grasp were Canadian figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who tasted victory in the team competition and the ice dance to take their Olympic medal tally since 2010 to five, for three golds and two silvers.
Eric Frenzel retained his Nordic combined individual normal hill/10km crown, while fellow German Johannes Rydzek took the honours in the large hill, with the two also joining forces with Vinzenz Geiger and Fabien Riessle to record a commanding victory in the team competition and complete a German clean sweep in the discipline.
Compatriot Francesco Friedrich recorded a bobsleigh double, sharing two-man gold with Canada’s Justin Kripps and also winning the four-man. Germany’s lugers were also in a class of their own. Natalie Geisenberger won the women’s singles for the second time running and Tobias Arlt and Tobias Wendl held on to their doubles title, with the three then combining with Johannes Ludwig to great effect as Germany retained the team relay crown.
Katlyn Lawes and John Morris (CAN) in curling mixed doubles; Nana Takagi (JPN) and Lee Seung-hoon (ROK) in the women’s and men’s speed skating mass start; Anna Gasser (AUT) and Sébastien Toutant (CAN) in snowboard big air; and Denise Feierabend, Ramon Zenhäusern, Wendy Holdener and Daniel Yule (SUI) in the Alpine skiing mixed team all became the first ever Olympic champions in their respective events.
Shaoang Liu, Shaolin Sandor Liu, Viktor Knoch and Csaba Burjan scored a very notable success in the men’s 5,000m relay to claim Hungary’s first ever Olympic Winter Games gold, while Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall ended the USA’s 94-year wait for a gold in women’s cross-country by winning the team sprint.
The “millennials” also made their mark at PyeongChang 2018. Born on 29 June 2000, US snowboarder Redmond Gerard set the tone on 11 February by winning the slopestyle. Meanwhile, compatriot Chloé Kim, who was born in the same year and enjoys star status in the Republic of Korea on account of her Korean heritage, scored a stunning win in the halfpipe to become the youngest ever Olympic gold medallist in women’s snowboard. Kim and Gerard were not the youngest winners of the Games, however. That honour went to Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova, who won the women’s figure skating singles competition aged just 15.
There were hardly any bigger stars at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games than the “Garlic Girls” - the host nation’s five-strong women’s curling team, who owed their nickname to the fact they all hail from the garlic-producing region of Uiseong. Led by their implacable skip Kim Eun-jung and all sharing the same surname, they scored a series of superb wins over the world’s top teams to inspire a nation and become a social media sensation. Though defeated by Sweden in the final, their silver was a landmark performance, giving ROK a first ever medal in the sport.