Marit Bjørgen ended her Olympic competition with another silver medal on Saturday, placing second in the tough 30-kilometer race after a thrilling duel against arch rival Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. Bjørgen fought hard for the gold, but will still be bringing home the most medals won by any Norwegian athlete at an Olympics since the days of Sonia Henie.
Bjørgen crossed the finish line just three-tenths of a second behind Kowalczyk, but told NRK she was still happy and that Kowalczyk “was stronger than me today.”
The two rivals have made headlines in recent days, after Kowalczyk linked Bjørgen’s strong performance at the Winter Olympics to asthma medicine Bjørgen is allowed to take. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Saturday that the two weren’t on speaking terms, with Bjørgen calling Kawalczyk “a bad loser.”
As if determined to prove that she wasn’t a bad loser herself, Bjørgen immediately congratulated Kowalczyk, who had collapsed on the snow at the finish line. Bjørgen later told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she hadn’t been thinking about Kowalczyk’s remarks, noting that the medicine she takes is legal and approved by Olympics officials.
Kowalczyk, who won Poland’s first gold medal in nearly 30 years, later told NRK she was sorry she made the comments about Bjørgen’s asthma medicine, but still is concerned about its use and about asthma among athletes in general.
In the race itself on Saturday, Kowalczyk had the starting position and held the lead in the beginning until Kristin Størmer Steira of Norway (who’d won gold along with the Bjørgen in the women’s relay earlier in the week) took over midway. Steira later ran out of steam, though, and the bronze went to Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland.
The winners ran the gruelling 30-kilometers in just over 90 minutes, in pouring rain. It was the last of the Olympic Nordic skiing events for women, and means Bjørgen will head home to Norway to five medals — three gold, one silver and one bronze. NRK reported it’s the most medals won by any single Norwegian athlete at an Olympics in 86 years, since the days of figure skating star Sonia Henie.