By Philip O’Connor
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Norway’s Marit Bjoergen stormed to gold in the women’s 30km mass start cross-country ski race, claiming her 15th Olympic medal in the final competition of the Pyeongchang Games on Sunday.
Bjoergen, the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, broke early and kept up a relentless pace to finish almost two minutes ahead of silver medalist Krista Parmakoski of Finland, with Stina Nilsson taking the bronze for Sweden.
The 37-year-old has been superb in Pyeongchang, writing history in almost every race, and the eighth Olympic gold of her career and fifth medal overall at these Games put her into two more select band of athletes.
Bjoergen equaled the record of eight career golds at the Winter Games, matching two compatriots, biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and cross-country skier Bjoern Daehlie.
She also equaled the record of winning five medals at a single Games, something 10 athletes have done, including Bjoergen herself in 2010.
“I’m really happy and it’s hard to understand what I have done from my first Olympics in Salt Lake until now,” she told reporters.
Like Iivo Niskanen in Saturday’s men’s race, Bjoergen made an early break, gradually opening up a gap and never looking back.
The chasing group of Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, Finns Krista Parmakoski and Kerttu Niskanen and Teresa Stadlober of Austria would have hoped that Bjoergen would burn out and then fade away but instead she built up a lead of almost a minute by the halfway mark.
A change of skis saw Kalla drop out of the chase briefly but it would make little difference to her chance of a gold medal with Bjoergen, rather than tiring, continuing to increase her lead. The Swede was left battling to get on to the podium.
Kalla’s cause was helped when Stadlober took a wrong turn on the tight, winding course but it was team mate Stina Nilsson who came out of the pack to battle for bronze as Niskanen also fell away.
Bjoergen had the luxury of skiing at a leisurely pace over the line, waving a Norwegian flag, while Parmakoski cruised in almost two minutes behind her to claim the silver.
Nilsson, who won the individual sprint medal and took silver in the team sprint, timed a late spurt to pass Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, rounding her Norwegian opponent and beating her to the line for the bronze.
Bjoergen’s emotions got the better of her as she crossed the line and the most successful Winter Olympic athlete of all time explained that she was thinking of her young son as she did so.
“I think my feelings were that I could do it on this distance and also that I have been a mother and I have been three weeks away from Marius, and now I knew that I’m finished and tomorrow I can see him,” she said.
(Editing by Clare Fallon and Sudipto Ganguly)