KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) Marit Bjoergen is still in a class of her own in women’s cross-country skiing, although perhaps not quite as dominant as she was four years ago.
Dario Cologna is now top of the class on the men’s side, seemingly unaffected by an injury-plagued season, warm weather and anything that his rivals can throw at him.
The cross-country events at the Sochi Olympics saw two of the sport’s biggest stars grab the spotlight over a two-week program that also saw other favorites falter, new faces emerge and old rivalries being renewed.
Norway, as usual, was the most successful nation, but had to watch neighbor Sweden come away with both the relay golds. Host nation Russia struggled until the final day, when it swept the podium in the most prestigious race of all, the men’s 50 kilometers.
Here are five things to know about the cross-country skiing events at the Sochi Olympics:
MARIT’S MARK: Bjoergen collected three gold medals for the second Olympics in a row and leaves Sochi as the most successful women’s Winter Olympian ever. She wasn’t quite as prolific as in Vancouver, where she added a silver and bronze medal as well, but now leads the women’s all-time list with her six golds and 10 overall medals. It may be her final tally, as the 33-year-old Bjoergen said she doubts she’ll still be competing in 2018. But the Norwegian doesn’t seem too concerned with numbers. ”When I’m finished skiing I can think about how many medals I have,” Bjoergen said. ”But right now it doesn’t mean much.”
SUPER DARIO: Cologna was the only multiple gold winner on the men’s side, coming back from having ankle surgery in November to win the opening the skiathlon race and then dominating the 15K classical as well. Cologna is a three-time overall World Cup champion but his performance was still surprising given that he only returned to competition in January. He may have had a chance at a third in the 50K race if he hadn’t broken his ski with about 5K left. ”That was a big chance to win another medal,” Cologna said after the race. ”In the moment the disappointment is bigger but when I go home I will sure be very happy with these Olympics.”
NORTHUG GOES SOUTH: Petter Northug left Vancouver with two golds, a silver and a bronze, and had high hopes of matching that tally in Sochi. Instead, he leaves Russia with no medals at all and as the biggest disappointment of the cross-country events. The Norwegian had struggled with an illness this season that disrupted his preparations, and had said beforehand that it was unclear what form he was in. Few had expected him to be this lackluster, though, as he never even came close to a podium finish.
SWEDEN’S DOUBLE: Sweden didn’t get a single gold in the individual events but swept the team relays – becoming the first country since 1972 to take both the men’s and women’s event. Charlotte Kalla secured the most dramatic win of the championships in the women’s relay when she erased a 25-second deficit on the final leg before winning a three-way sprint for the gold. That came as the heavily favored Norwegian team only finished fifth after the waxing technicians couldn’t find the right setup for the warm conditions. The next day, Sweden’s men’s team had an easier time defending its title from Vancouver as anchor Marcus Hellner already had a comfortable lead when he set out on the final leg and protected it without problem.
RUSSIA’S FINALE: Russia struggled to live up to expectations for two weeks. Then on the final day, it surpassed them by sweeping the podium in the 50K race. Alexander Legkov won gold ahead of teammates Maxim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov. That victory also ensured that Russia finished on top of the overall medals table for the games, providing a perfect finish for the host nation. ”To win a gold medal on the final day, and win the medals table for Russia,” Legkov said, ”I couldn’t be happier.”