STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Four years on from a doping suspension that forced her to miss the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, Norway’s Therese Johaug returns to carry the Olympic hopes of the skiing-mad nation once again.
Even in her absence, the Norwegians took seven of the 12 cross-country gold medals on offer four years ago, as well as four silver and three bronze.
Marit Bjoergen cemented her status as the most successful winter Olympian of all time by winning the women’s 30km race to collect her 15th Games medal.
With Bjoergen now retired, Johaug leads the charge alongside Johannes Klaebo as she chases her first individual Olympic medal.
Despite missing Pyeongchang, Johaug is no stranger to the high-profile media circus that accompanies Norwegians at the Olympics.
She was part of the relay team that won gold in Vancouver in 2010, and followed up with a silver and a bronze medal in Sochi four years later.
A positive test for an anabolic steroid derailed the 33-year-old’s hopes of competing in 2018, as governing body FIS took a case to the Court of Arbitration In Sport (CAS) that saw a 13-month ban handed out by the Norwegian Olympic Committee extended to 18 months.
Her quest for an individual medal will by not be an easy one – Charlotte Kalla leads a strong Sweden women’s team, and American Jessie Diggins will be looking to build on her sensational team sprint gold with Kikkan Randall in 2018.
On the men’s side, Klaebo will have to get the better of Russian rival Alexander Bolshunov if he is to add to his haul of three gold medals from Pyeongchang.
Finland’s Iivo Niskanen has shown fine form over longer distances in the run-up to the Games, as has his sister Kerttu, and together with Krista Parmakoski they will spearhead the Finnish challenge.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Ed Osmond)