Norwegian sports fans had to wait five days for their first gold medal in the Winter Olympics, but it finally came on Wednesday when Marit Bjørgen won the Ladies’ Individual Sprint Classic.
Bjørgen beat the heavily favored Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, surprising everyone including herself. “Wow, was I really so far ahead,” she said during the run-up to her win.
For Bjørgen, an Olympic gold medal was a long time coming. She got sick during the last Olympics in Torino and often has had setbacks in her career. Now the 29-year-old cross country skier from Rognes is more than pleased.
“I’m an Olympic champion!” she exclaimed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Individual gold! There aren’t many Norwegians who have that. It still hasn’t quite sunk in.”
Bjørgen led the qualifier, the quarter-finals and the semi-finals, though, before clinching the gold.
PICTURE: Norway’s Marit Bjørgen celebrates winning the Cross Country Ladies Individual Sprint Classic Finals at the Whistler Olympic Park during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, February 17, 2010. UPI /Heinz Ruckemann Photo via Newscom
Kowalczyk took the silver and Petra Majdic of Slovenia the bronze.
Bjørgen’s male counterpart Petter Northug, meanwhile, redeemed himself somewhat, but had to settle for bronze in the Men’s Individual Sprint Classic behind Nikita Kriukov and Alexander Panzhinskiy of Russia.
Ole Vigen Hattestad of Norway landed in fourth place right behind Northug, who’s been having a disappointing Olympics. He’d been favored to mine quite a bit of gold, but wound up in 41st place during his Olympic debut in the Men’s 15 kilometer freestyle. Now he claims he’s “just looking forward,” reports NRK.
(Written February 17, 2010)