Cross-country skiing: Bjoergen makes history with Norway relay gold

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Marit Bjoergen skied a triumphant final leg to write her name in the Olympic record books, delivering gold for Norway in the women’s 4x5km relay on Saturday and joining countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen as the most successful winter Olympian of all time on 13 medals.

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Sweden took silver, two seconds behind, after powerful performances by Charlotte Kalla, Ebba Andersson and Stina Nilsson, while the Olympic Athletes from Russia came third to take the bronze, 43.3 seconds behind the winners.

Bjoergen got the glory but Norway’s win was firmly rooted in a stunning third leg by Olympic 10km freestyle champion Ragnhild Haga, who erased a gap of almost half a minute to tee up Bjoergen for victory.

The Swedes also had to overcome a big gap to the leaders after a slow first leg by Anna Haag but Kalla, who took Olympic gold in the women’s skiathlon, charged around her two laps to put them back in contention.

Led by superb runs from Natalia Nepryaeva and Yulia Belorukova, Olympic Athletes of Russia made the early running but when the Nordic nations upped the tempo they gradually fell away and had to be content with a bronze medal.

Andersson managed to take the lead for the Swedes as the race reached its final leg but Haga’s power, consistently applied over her two laps, left Bjoergen in a position to seal the victory.

The 37-year-old accelerated up the first hill with Nilsson snapping at her heels at the front of the field but Olympic sprint champion Nilsson had no answer when Bjoergen rounded the final corner and sped over the line for victory.

“I have been nervous, I haven’t been able to train for this,” Bjoergen told Norwegian television.

“But I just had to grind and wear out her (Nilsson’s) legs, and I did that. She didn’t manage the last turn and I’m surprised I managed it. She was on my heels in the last uphill,” Bjoergen added.

Bjoergen received plenty of plaudits from her competitors following her historic achievement.

“She is an absolute legend, it’s really, really cool to see her race every single time, she just skis with absolute control,” American racer Jessica Diggins told Reuters.

The United States continue their wait for a first cross-country medal since 1976. Sophie Caldwell struggled on the first leg, leaving her team mates with too much to do and they eventually finished fifth behind Finland.

Editing by Clare Fallon and Clare Lovell