Marit Bjørgen aims for the history books

The skier needs four more medals to become the winningest Winter Olympian

Marit Bjørgen

Photo: Cephas / Wikimedia Commons
Marit Bjørgen races in the 2017 Ski Tour Canada in Quebec City in March 2017.

Jo Christian Weldingh

After adding three gold medals to her collection in Sochi 2014, Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen brought her lifetime Olympic total to six golds, three silvers, and one bronze, making her the most decorated female winter Olympian ever, heading into her fifth Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. If her performance in the last few championships is anything to go by, Bjørgen has a good chance of surpassing fellow Norwegians, cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie and biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen, to become the most-decorated winter Olympian of them all. Since neither man is competing in the games this year, she only needs to win four medals.

Bjørgen, now 37 years old, got her big breakthrough when she won the bronze in the 2001 Norwegian Championship in her first season as a senior. Bjørgen initially excelled at the sprint events, winning the 2002-03 sprint cup. However, in the 2004-05 season, Bjørgen also became an accomplished distance skier, winning the overall World Cup.

Her big international beginning came in the Word Championship in Obertdorf in 2005 where she won three gold medals, one silver, and one bronze.

Bjørgen went on to be the best female cross-country skier the world has ever seen. In addition to her 10 Olympic medals, she has won 26 World Championship medals, the World Cup four times, Tour de Ski, and 24 Norwegian Championships. Her 112 World Cup wins is a record for any winter sports athlete.

When the Olympic torch reaches Pyeongchang, Bjørgen is once again the one to beat. She has been bested a couple of times this season by Swede Charlotte Kalla but has promised that she will be in peak condition, as usual, when the Games begin.

Winter sports expert Fredrik Aukland says that there are only two non-Norwegians that can hope to beat Bjørgen in the Olympics. “Charlotte Kalla, obviously, she has had a great season so far and has already beaten Bjørgen a couple of times, and American Jessica Diggins.”

Jessica Diggins has four World Championship medals on her record, including one gold medal from the team sprint in Val di Fiemme in 2013. She also has three World Cup wins in the 5km freestyle. Diggins’s best chance for a gold medal is probably in the 5km freestyle or the team sprint where she’ll team up with either Sophie Caldwell or Sadie Bjornsen. All three skiers have performed really well so far this season and they’re all in the top seven in the sprint cup.

Bjørgen is thinking about participating in all six cross-country skiing events in the Olympics, a plan some experts have publicly asked her to rethink. Bjørgen has, with age, lost some of her top speed, and her results in the sprints are not as good as they used to be. Her biggest chances of winning a gold medal are in the 20km duathlon and the 30km classic, and of course the 4x5km relay.

Bjørgen turns 38 in March and has realized that her career is coming to an end, and that this season might be her last. “We’ll see,” she said, when asked last summer. “I’m thinking about it and will decide when the season is over. One year at a time.”

No matter what she decides when the season is over, what is certain is that this will be her last Olympics. “The Olympics is my only priority this season. It will be my last Olympics for sure, so I will do everything in my power to perform as well as I possibly can.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, 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.