PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) Marit Bjoergen crossed the finish line, thrust her ski poles in the air and was promptly mobbed by teammates.
She’d done it.
No Winter Olympian in history can say they have more medals than the 37-year-old Norwegian.
Bjoergen helped the Norwegian women win the 4×5-kilometer cross-country relay on Saturday to take home her 13th career medal, tying her with Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen for the most Winter Games medals ever.
She can take over sole possession of the lead with a medal in either of the final two women’s events – the team sprint relay or the mass start. The 44-year-old Bjoerndalen participated in six Olympics but did not make this year’s team, so his medal count won’t increase.
”She is an absolute legend,” American rival Jessica Diggins said of Bjoergen. ”It’s really, really cool to see her race every single time. She just skis with absolute control.”
Bjoerndalen is at the Winter Games helping out his wife Darya Domracheva, who won a silver medal for Belarus on Saturday night. He said he’s cheering for Bjoergen break the record.
”For sure, I want to see her win,” Bjoerndalen said. ”It will be really amazing. The career that Marit has had is really amazing. She is really strong. She has been doing it for so long and still today she was amazing on the relay, so it’s great that she has two more chances to break it.”
He thinks she will break the record before the games are over.
”I think she will win at least one more gold – and maybe two more,” Bjoerndalen said.
As for Bjoergen, she said she hasn’t given herself time to think about the record.
”When you’re an athlete and still racing you’re looking forward and not thinking about what you’ve done,” Bjoergen said. ”You’re just looking forward to the next race and focus on that. Like I said before, when I’ve finished skiing I’ll look behind me and see what I will have done.”
Bjoergen was 3.4 seconds behind with the Norwegians in third place entering the anchor leg of the race. But she quickly took the lead and never let it go, holding off Stina Nilsson for the gold.
Sweden finished a close second while a team of Russians were third.
”The other girls did give me a good position, but it’s a new position for me,” Bjoergen said. ”In the past I have been going there in front by myself but I had to try and push hard all the way and I knew I could do it if I had a good day.”
It was Bjoergen’s third medal at this year’s Olympics, but her first gold. She also claimed a silver and bronze in individual events.
”Many years ago she was my idol and she is also now my idol,” Finnish skier Kerttu Niskanen said.
Bjoergen now has seven gold medals, the most ever by a female Winter Olympian.
At 37 years, 333 days old, Bjoergen became the second-oldest Olympic champion in the event behind only Raisa Smetanina, who was 39 years, 354 days old when she claimed gold in 1992.
Surprisingly, the Swedes did not use Charlotte Kalla as their anchor after she erased a 25-second deficit on the last leg at the 2014 Sochi Games to pull out a dramatic gold medal for Sweden. Instead, Kalla took the second leg, where she still made up 24 seconds to put the Swedes back in the mix.
The U.S. women’s team was hoping for its first medal, but Sophie Caldwell left the Americans in 11th place and more than a minute behind after the first leg. The rest of the team could not make up the deficit and the Americans finished a distant fifth.
”This is our best Olympic relay finish ever and probably the most excitement we’ve ever had,” American skier Kikkan Randall said.
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