PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Marit Bjoergen crossed the finish line, thrust her ski poles in the air and was promptly mobbed by teammates.
She’d done it.
No Winter Olympian in history can say they have more medals than the 37-year-old Norwegian cross-country skier.
Bjoergen helped the Norwegian women win the 4x5-kilometer cross-country relay on Saturday to take home her 13th career medal, tying her with Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen for the most Winter Games medals ever.
She can take over sole possession of the lead with a medal in either of the final two women’s events – the team sprint relay or the 50-kilometer mass start. The 44-year-old Bjoerndalen participated in six Olympics but did not make this year’s team, so his medal count won’t increase.
“She is an absolute legend,” American rival Jessica Diggins said. “It’s really, really cool to see her race every single time. She just skis with absolute control.”
Sweden finished a close second in the race while a team of Russians were third.
Bjoergen was 3.4 seconds behind with the Norwegians in third place entering the anchor leg of the race. But she quickly took the lead and never let it go, holding off Stina Nilsson for the gold.
“The other girls did give me a good position, but it’s a new position for me,” Bjoergen said. “In the past I have been going there in front by myself, but I had to try and push hard all the way and I knew I could do it if I had a good day.”
It was Bjoergen’s third medal at this year’s Olympics, but her first gold. She also claimed a silver and bronze in individual events.
“Many years ago she was my idol and she is also now my idol,” Finnish skier Kerttu Niskanen said.
Bjoergen has seven gold medals, the most by a female Winter Olympian.
At 37 years, 333 days old, Bjoergen became the second-oldest Olympic champion in the event behind only Raisa Smetanina, who was 39 years, 354 days old when she claimed gold in 1992.
Surprisingly, the Swedes did not use Charlotte Kalla as their anchor after she erased a 25-second deficit on the last leg at the 2014 Sochi Games to pull out a dramatic gold medal for Sweden. Instead, Kalla took the second leg, where she still made up 24 seconds to put the Swedes back in the mix.
The United States women’s team was hoping for its first medal, but Sophie Caldwell left the Americans in 11th place and more than a minute behind after the first leg. The rest of the team could not make up the deficit and the Americans finished a distant fifth.
“This is our best Olympic relay finish ever and probably the most excitement we’ve ever had,” American skier Kikkan Randall said. “It was really fun to race under the lights tonight and great to put on the (red, white and blue) face paint one more time for me and those relay socks.”
“It’s kind of like a relay event for the whole of the United States right now,” added Sadie Bjornsen, a native of Omak, Washington. “We have some awesome young girls who had some podiums at the world junior events and we’re kind of encouraging them along. They’re going to be following in our footsteps and showing up here in the next Olympic Games. We’re just trying to keep the momentum going.”
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