Several sporting legends began their Olympic careers in Albertville, including several cross-country skiers. In the men’s competitions, Norway’s Bjørn Dæhlie announced his arrival with three gold medals, while in the women’s events Russian athlete Lyubov Yegorova made just as big a splash.
Yegorova was competing for the Unified Team, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and she was destined to be one of its star performers. She was entered into five events and took gold or silver in each of them.
The women’s 5km race was not just the fastest in Olympic history, it also produced the closest finish, with Yegorova finishing less than a second behind eventual winner, Marjut Lukkarinen of Finland
She added a second silver in the 30km, where she was a little under 22 seconds behind the winner Stefania Belmondo of Italy. By that point, though, Yegorova could have been excused for experiencing a little tiredness, as she had produced some stunning performances in her other events. In the 15km, she set the fastest time at each checkpoint and won by more than a minute from Lukkarinen. It was a magnificent victory, and set the stage for two more.
In the pursuit, Yegorova was matched for much of the way by Lukkarinen during the freestyle section but gradually moved ahead of the Finn. In the end, it was Belmondo who offered the greatest challenge, but the Russian’s relentless speed and supreme fitness allowed her to open up a comfortable lead, and she took gold by a margin of 24 seconds.
That left the 4x5km relay, which the Unified Team started as firm favourites. In fact, the race proved much closer than expected, with Norway pushing them all the way. Yegorova skied the anchor leg, and inherited a slender lead of just 2.5 seconds. However, she managed to protect that advantage into the finish before pulling away to cross the line some 21.6 seconds clear of her Norwegian rival.Five events – three golds and two silvers. It was an incredible haul, and two years later in Lillehammer Yegorova added another three golds and a further silver to cement her status as one of the greatest cross-country skiers of all time.