Pair of skiers make history at beginning of Winter Olympics
Spoiler alert: If you want to watch on primetime television, do not read this.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The Pyeongchang Games got off to a historic start on Saturday.
Charlotte Kalla of Sweden won the first gold medal of the games and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen took silver in the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon to become the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever.
But while the 37-year-old Bjoergen, who won three gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games and three more in Sochi, proved she’s still a dominant figure in the sport she admitted there is a noticeable changing of the guard happening in the sport.
“I have been very good for many years but I’m also getting older and the younger girls are getting better,” Bjoergen said.
It was an 11th career medal for Bjoergen, breaking a three-way tie with Raisa Smetanina of Russia and Stefania Belmondo of Italy. Bjoergen thrust her arms up in the air as she crossed the finish, knowing she’d made history in what she said will be her last Olympics.
Kalla won the race by more than seven seconds after breaking away from the pack in the last 2 kilometers to avenge her second-place finish to Bjoergen at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
She said she has plenty of respect for Bjoergen, one of her training partners.
“It feels very good to be ahead of Marit,” Kalla said. “She’s a fantastic skier.”
Krista Parmakoski of Finland was third and Jessica Diggins placed fifth, missing a chance to become the first American woman to earn a medal in cross-country skiing. Diggins was third in the World Cup standings coming into the race.
Diggins said she was so nervous before the race that she threw up.
“The stress level has been pretty high,” Diggins said. “I need to work on a few things to manage stress.”
Led by Bjoergen, Norway won 11 medals overall in cross-country in Sochi four years ago — including five golds — to tie the country’s record.
The Norwegians have now tied Russia for the most medals all time in women’s cross-country skiing with 37.
Including men’s cross-country events, only Bjoern Daehlie of Norway has won more medals (12) than Bjoergen. She will have a chance to pass that mark in the upcoming weeks.
For Kalla it was her sixth career Olympic medal — and third gold.
Bjoergen was 14th after the first of the four laps, but bolted to the lead on the outside on the second lap. She led by less than a second at the midway point of the race as the crowd roared, sensing that history was near.
But when the skiers changed skis and went from classical to freestyle technique, Bjoergen seemed to lose some momentum. The lead changed hands several times on the third lap before Bjoergen again grabbed the lead.
But it didn’t last.
Late in the race, Kalla seemed re-energized and pulled away with a burst. She coasted the final 20 meters for the victory after leading by more than 10 seconds.
Kalla said she worried she might have made her move too early.
“There were some thoughts about what the others were doing but I just tried to focus on my performance,” Kalla said. “I try to look forward all of the time.”
Bjoergen got caught behind another skier and said she couldn’t follow her. By the time she had room to maneuver it was too late because Kalla had built too large of a lead to make up.
Kalla’s teammate, Ebba Andersson, barely missed a medal by finishing fourth. Heidi Weng of Norway, who leads the World Cup standings, finished a distant ninth.