Norway cross-country skiing star Marit Bjoergen captured the second overall gold medal of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Saturday in winning the ladies' skiathlon 7.5-kilometer classic and 7.5-kilometer free event.
Bjoergen was ahead of the pack with a time of 19:10.6 in the classic, but a slightly longer pit stop to change skis after the first 7.5 kilometer saw her lose the edge as Sweden's Charlotte Kalla took the lead for a span. However, Kalla settled for silver in trailing by 1.8 seconds, as Bjoergen's superiority shined through and she outraced her foe, registering 38:33.6 as her final time.
Here is a look at the top-10 finishers and their splits as the competition progressed:
|Place||Competitor (Country)||Classic (Rank)||Pit (Rank)||Free (Rank)||Total Time (Min./Sec.)||Behind|
|1||Marit Bjoergen (Norway)||19:10.6 (1)||35.1 (T-26)||18:47.1 (1)||38:33.6||—|
|2||Charlotte Kalla (Sweden)||19:11.6 (3)||33.5 (4)||18:50.3 (2)||38:35.4||+1.8|
|3||Heidi Weng (Norway)||19:12.0 (4)||33.7 (T-5)||19:01.1 (4)||38:46.8||+13.2|
|4||Therese Johaug (Norway)||19:11.5 (2)||35.7 (T-31)||19:01.0 (3)||38:48.2||+14.6|
|5||Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (Finland)||19:12.4 (5)||34.2 (9)||19:02.3 (5)||38:48.9||+15.3|
|6||Justyna Kowalczyk (Poland)||19:12.9 (6)||39.6 (53)||19:37.2 (10)||39:29.7||+56.1|
|7||Kerttu Niskanen (Finland)||19:17.4 (7)||32.0 (1)||19:45.9 (14)||39:35.3||+1:01.7|
|8||Jessie Diggins (USA)||20:01.7 (27)||34.3 (T-10)||19:29.5 (8)||40:05.5||+1:31.9|
|9||Emma Wiken (Sweden)||19:48.5 (14)||33.8 (7)||19:44.9 (13)||40:07.2||+1:33.6|
|10||Masako Ishida (Japan)||19:24.4 (8)||34.3 (T-10)||20:09.6 (27)||40:08.3||+1:34.7|
Another Norwegian in Heidi Weng finished a bit further back at 38:46.8, but it was good enough to beat out her compatriot in Therese Johaug for bronze.
It was an emotional victory for Bjoergen and a heavy-hearted trip to the podium for Weng, as the brother of their teammate Astrid Jacobsen passed away suddenly on Friday, per the Associated Press' Mattias Karen:
Considering the track record Bjoergen has in winning five medals and three golds in the 2010 Vancouver Games, it makes sense that she rose to the challenge and fulfilled her fate as the favorite.
NBCOlympicTalk.com editor Nick Zaccardi noted how this could be the first of six golds for Bjoergen, which would be unprecedented.
Marit Bjoergen (NOR) wins first of what could be record six medals at single Winter Games. Gold in XC skiathlon.— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) February 8, 2014
With this triumph, Bjoergen has already joined elite company in her Winter Games career, moving to a tie for sixth all time as a four-time gold medalist, per Olympstats.com's Bill Mallon.
Karen noted how the "Iron Lady" Bjoergen expressed she would have been pleased with just one more gold this time around in Sochi, but it appears her work is far from done if Saturday's display was any indication:
The top American finisher was Jessie Diggins, who placed eighth and roared to the finish in the freestyle after being in 27th entering the pit stop. A convoluted pileup of sorts occurred as the skiers pitted, causing Fox Sports' Jay Clemons to weigh in on the volatility the changeover presents:
It's amazing how your entire Olympic dream -- with cross-country skiing -- can come down to a pit stop ... #Sochi2014— Jay Clemons (@FOX_JayClemons) February 8, 2014
Diggins discussed what made her successful in the trying test of endurance, per NBCSports.com's Chris Estrada:
Normally in pursuit races, I fall so far behind in the classic [portion] that I take myself out for the race because I’m a strong [free] skater...But today, I…had a great plan from the coaches and fantastic skis, and I was able to hang on in the classic part. Then in the skate – just systematically work and ramp it up, picking people off one by one. Luckily, at the end, I had just enough energy for a strong finish.
USA competitor Elizabeth Stephens also had a solid effort in placing 12th, pitting the second fastest in the field—a necessary swiftness since she was 31st in the classic.
But what will be remembered from this event is the strong, inspiring performance Norway put forth in taking the early medal count advantage, placing three skiers in the top four and seeing Bjoergen's dominance continue.
It will be interesting to monitor just how much hardware Bjoergen can bring back home to her native Norway and where she will stack up in history among Winter Olympians. She's already held in high regard, but the 33-year-old veteran has the experience and athleticism to become even more prolific.
Note: Results and information are courtesy of Sochi2014.com unless otherwise stated.