ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – There was bad news for the world’s female cross-country skiers as Therese Johaug’s “retirement” comment after her razor-thin victory in Thursday’s 10 km classic race at the Beijing Games turned out to be nothing but a joke with her wax technician.
The 33-year-old Norwegian powerhouse was caught on camera shouting “this is my last race”, but it turned out to be a barb aimed at her tech, who had asked her if she would retire when he couldn’t stand the tension as the race reached its climax.
“Those two minutes when I was standing and waiting (to see if silver medallist Kerttu Niskanen might beat her time) were the worst of my life,” she told reporters, before reassuring them that she had no intention of quitting.
“You know, it’s a crazy feeling when you’re standing there and like ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God’ and you know that it goes your way and you scream, but I’m so happy,” a beaming Johaug added.
With two gold medals in two races Johaug has become the woman to beat at the Beijing Olympics.
But her rivals are beginning to reel her in in a way that didn’t seem possible after her dominant skiathlon win on Saturday.
She opened her Games with a huge win by over half a minute in the skiathlon. But in Thursday’s race she had to endure that nervous wait before eventually winning by less than half a second over Finnish rival Niskanen.
“I passed the finish line and was like ‘How is it going behind me?’ She’s coming to the finish line, I saw the clock, I saw her double-poling, I was like ‘Oh my God, OK, this will be really close’,” Johaug said, recalling the thrilling climax.
Niskanen came up four-tenths of a second short, and Johaug’s second gold of the Games was in the bag.
With Krista Parmakoski coming in third, the Finns put Johaug under huge pressure and Natalya Nepryaeva, representing the Russian Olympic Committee, was also not far off the podium. But the expected challenge from Norway’s neighbours and bitter rivals Sweden never materialised.
The Swedes flopped, with Frida Karlsson – widely tipped to medal – finishing a distant 12th, far below expectations.
They and the rest of Johaug’s rivals will have another chance for revenge in Saturday’s 4×5 km relay.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)