The Ladies Skiathlon was formally known as The Pursuit which says it all about the format. The athletes are lined up, rows deep, based on world rankings. 40 of the worlds best female cross country skiers compete over a total of 15km, half in the Classic style and then the Free to see who finishes first, fastest, and in Gold Medal time.
The Scandinavian countries have long dominated the cross country events and Norway and Sweden led the pack in this event as well. For the majority of the 7.5km Classic portion of the race, things were tight, at most a minute separated the greater bulk of the racers but as the competitors changed skis for the second half Free style, those Ladies vying for a medal were carved down to only six. Among these six were three Norwegians, a Finn, a Pole, and Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla (Gold Medalist in the 10k Freestyle in Vancouver).
There was a small amount of jockeying for position but the Norwegians held the top three spots as they moved through the third lap with Justyna Kowalczyk from Poland, a four time medalist, struggling to maintain the pace. On the fourth lap, top ranked Therese Johaug made a push on the long last climb but didn’t get the separation she would need for the sprint but the field did separate when Charlotte Kalla picked her spot later on that same climb to dart into the lead at the perfect moment, moving further ahead with every push.
But three time Gold Medalist and Norwegian Cross Country hero Marit Bjorgen marked Kalla and wouldn’t allow the race to end on this uphill. She cranked and stroked and put herself even with Kalla for the 200m sprint for Gold.
There is nothing in the sport of cross country skiing as exciting as the sprint to the finish. There were 200m of flat snow between these two great athletes and a Gold Medal. Like lithe industrial pistons, Kalla and Bjorgen threw their slender poles high into the air and pumped, pushed, and drove themselves forward at incredible speed towards glory. It was clear within a moment who the winner would be. With incredible timing, strength and skill, the champion Marit Bjorgen brought joy to all of Norway by bringing her country its first Gold Medal of these Olympic Winter Games and her fourth career Gold Medal (eight Medal overall). Kalla threw her poles high in the air in celebration as she crossed the finish line 1.8 seconds behind Bjorgen winning a Silver for Sweden. The Medal podium was rounded out 13.2 seconds by Norwegian Heidi Weng, a true statement for Cross Country loving Norway.
The excitement of Cross Country continues today with the Men’s 10k Biathlon, our favorite combination of skiing and shooting the world over. Keep an eye on Norway there as well.