Four new golds for Bjørgen

Norway’s queen of skiing makes quite the comeback with four world championship gold medals in Lahti

Marit Bjørgen celebrates

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG
Marit Bjørgen has much to celebrate in her triumphant return to competitive skiing.

Jo Christian Weldingh
Oslo, Norway

Marit Bjørgen came in first in the women’s 30-km race and secured her fourth gold medal in the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championship and her 18th world championship gold medal overall.

“I’ll count my medals when I’m retired,” Bjørgen told the press after her win.

Bjørgen’s dominance this championship didn’t really come as a big surprise for anyone who’s been following cross-country skiing throughout the last decade, but this being her comeback season after becoming a mother for the first time last year, no one quite knew what to expect. Especially after her semi-final exit in the sprint, the championship’s opening distance.

On the following 15-km duathlon, however, Bjørgen was back on the top of the podium, where she has been so many times before. By breaking away from Finnish Krista Pärmäkoski in the last steep climb, she passed the finish line first, winning her 15th world championship and making her the most successful cross-country skier in history.

“She’s the queen of cross-country skiing,” former multiple gold medal winner and skiing legend Thomas Alsgaard said after the race.

In the next event, the 10-km interval start, there never was any doubt. Bjørgen took the lead on the opening point and never looked back. In the end she beat the silver medalist, Swedish Charlotte Kalla, with 41 seconds—the biggest margin of victory in a world championship ever. In a controversial interview after the race, she thanked her good training partner and friend, Therese Johaug, for all her help and support. Johaug tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs last fall and is currently suspended from all competitions.

Two days later it was time for the 4 x 5 km relay, with the Norwegian team as big favorites. The Norwegians did not disappoint. Maiken Caspersen Falla broke away on the first leg, and the competitors were never able to close the gap. Bjørgen started her leg with a lead to her biggest rivals, primarily Sweden and Finland, and didn’t have any problems securing a comfortable Norwegian victory. In addition to Bjørgen and Falla, Heidi Weng and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen participated in the victory.

In the championship’s last race, the 30-km mass start, Bjørgen had a more difficult way to the top of the podium than in the other races. She wasn’t able to break away from the rest of field, and it ended in a mass sprint. Luckily for Bjørgen, Kalla broke her ski pole a few kilometers before the finish, while Weng made a mistake in the last turn. With her two biggest competitors out of the race, Bjørgen had no problem winning her fourth gold of the championship—her 18th in total.

She was both happy and relieved, she revealed in the post-race press conference. “It has exceeded all expectations. I’m glad it’s over now. It has been so thrilling,” she said.

With Bjørgen’s 30-km victory, the Norwegian women’s team completed a clean sweep in this year’s championship, as Caspersen Falla won the individual sprint and the sprint relay, the latter with Weng as her partner. No country has won all of the women’s cross-country gold medals at a single world championship since Russia in 1997, when there were only five on offer, rather than the current six.

The men’s team did not meet their own—or the media’s—expectations, winning only one gold medal, the 4 x 10 km relay, and no individual gold medals. Several experts have been quite outspoken about the need for change in the management.

The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships have been held in various numbers and types of events since 1925 for men and since 1954 for women. Championship events include Nordic skiing’s three disciplines: cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and Nordic combined (the latter being a combination sport consisting of both cross-country and ski jumping). From 1924 to 1939, the World Championships were held every year, including the Winter Olympics. After World War II, they were held every four years from 1950 to 1982. Since 1985, the World Championships have been held in odd-numbered years.

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, but is currently living in Oslo. He has a BA in Archaeology from The University of Oslo and a BA in Business Administration from BI Norwegian Business School.

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.