PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Marit Bjoergen’s sprint to Olympic victory over her fierce Swedish rivals in the women’s relay may well be the sweetest of her glittering career and with two races to go the 37-year-old could still plunder more gold in Pyeongchang.
Described as a “legend” by fellow racer Jessica Diggins, Bjoergen joins her countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen as the athletes with the most Winter Olympics medals of all time — 13.
There are still more chances in Pyeongchang and with a week to recover before the 30km mass start, she may decide to dig deep for one more shot after her relay heroics.
With the scene set by Ragnhild Haga’s superb third leg, Bjoergen took off like a rocket with Swedish sprint queen Stina Nilsson and an epic battle for gold between the Nordic rivals ensued before Bjoergen powered to victory.
“Today I’m very proud of myself. I rank this highly,” she told state broadcaster NRK.
Swedish fans may have thought that they were helping Nilsson with their cheers, but one of them may live to regret riling the Norwegian ace.
“Some Swede out there shouted ‘she looks stressed, she looks stressed’, and then I thought damn it, this just lights my fire even more!” she said.
Regardless of those comments, an enormous respect underpins the rivalry between the two nations and Nilsson pushed her all the way.
But when the Norwegian closed the door as the young pretender tried to overtake her late on, Bjoergen’s place in the history books was guaranteed.
“I’m not surprised that Marit won the spurt. She’s a fantastic ski racer and I saw that she was going hard the whole way,” Swedish silver medallist Charlotte Kalla told reporters.
Bjoergen first took part in the Olympics in 2002, winning a silver medal in the relay and, though she was delighted to reach Bjoerndalen’s mark of 13 medals 16 years later, she is in no hurry to be consigned to the history books just yet.
“I think when you’re an athlete and still racing, you’re looking forward and not thinking about what you’ve done,” she told reporters.
“You’re just looking forward to the next race and you focus on that. Like I said before, when I’ve finished skiing I’ll look behind me and see what I have done,” she said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Clare Lovell