PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Norway dominated the Olympic cross-country skiing events at the Alpensia resort but the resilience of the Swedish women’s team, a long-awaited gold for Finland and a stunning win for the U.S. women make for an intriguing future for the sport.
With a haul of two golds, one silver and two bronzes, Norway’s Marit Bjoergen was crowned the queen of the Olympics with her 15th medal, making her the most successful athlete in the history of the Games on her final visit.
Bjoergen and some of her older team mates may not be in Beijing in four years’ time but after taking three gold medals in his first Games, the young prodigy that is Johannes Klaebo will undoubtedly return for more glory.
The 21-year-old World Cup leader struggled to begin with but once he found his feet he exploded into life, his powerful spurts on the toughest of hills breaking the will of many of his opponents in both individual and team events.
In an intimidating display of their power, the Norwegians won four of the six gold medals on offer for men, with only Dario Cologna of Switzerland (15km freestyle) and Finland’s Iivo Niskanen (50km mass start classic) able to break their dominance.
Niskanen seemed to be on the way to a very underwhelming Olympics until he made an early break to land an individual gold medal that his country has longed for in the 50km race — it was their first medal over the classic distance for 24 years.
Another medal drought that came to an end was the United States’ 42-year wait to follow up Bill Koch’s silver in Innsbruck, as Jessica Diggins and stalwart Kikkan Randall won gold in a thrilling women’s team sprint.
The infectious enthusiasm of Diggins and the single-minded dedication of Randall have injected new life into a program that has suffered in silence in the shadow of the nation’s successes in snowboarding and Alpine and freestyle skiing.
Sweden’s women also did their best to keep the Norwegian threat under control, with Charlotte Kalla winning the first gold of the games in the skiathlon and Stina Nilsson taking the individual sprint title.
The pair then teamed up to take silver in the team sprint but in the end there was no stopping Bjoergen.
Having won over this distance by 2.7 seconds ahead of Therese Johaug in Sochi, she sprinted away from the field in the 30km mass start, blazing to victory almost two minutes ahead of Finland’s Krista Parmakoski.
For the Norwegians, who missed the podium in the men’s 50km race less than 24 hours earlier, it was the perfect end to the Games in which the nation set a record of 14 gold medals together with Germany.
The rest of the field will not be too disappointed, however, as individuals and teams proved that, with the right attitude and preparation, it is possible to knock the Norwegians off their perch.
Editing by Clare Fallon