Of the many medal hopes Norwegians have for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships currently taking place in Oslo, Marit Bjørgen is arguably their highest – even if some thought she would retire from the sport just two years ago.
On Thursday she got off to a great start, placing first in the women’s sprint finals before a roaring crowd. Now she says she just intends to keep skiing hard and enjoy the rest of the World Championships, called Ski-VM in Norway.
Bjørgen’s 12-year career has had its fair share of ups and downs, with many thinking she would hang up her skis after finishing 9th, 16th and 19th in the individual races she entered in the 2009 Ski-VM in Liberec, Czech Republic. The Trondheim-born ski star nonetheless managed to rediscover her form, winning three gold medals in the 2010 Winter Olympics and triumphing in 16 of the 27 races she has participated in between November 2009 and March 2011.
First bursting onto the international ski scene with a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Bjørgen would achieve four gold medals, two silver and one bronze cumulatively in the 2003 and 2005 World Championships. But after gaining another Olympic silver medal in 2006, her form at top championships seemed to desert her. She picked up just two bronze medals in Sapporo, Japan, in the 2007 Ski-VM, before her devastating performances in Liberec.
The sea change in her fortunes has not been without controversy. Her 2009 renaissance coincided with her being allowed to use an asthma medicine, Symbicort, which was banned under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations. Although Bjørgen and her entourage have insisted that those who do not suffer from asthma would derive no benefit from the substance, and WADA has relaxed its rules on the issue since, the skier’s fellow competitors have been highly critical of the special dispensation she received. Indeed, Bjørgen herself stated in an interview with newspaper Aftenposten that she “probably would not be best in the world” without the remedy.
Nevertheless, even her harshest critics would have to admit that the Norwegian has worked tirelessly to pull off an enormous turn around in her own fortunes. After the disappointment in Liberec, Bjørgen changed her training programme in all aspects, and has been reaping the rewards ever since. She has had her pick of the top experts in their field in Norway, who jumped at the opportunity to help the star return to her former glory.
Now ranked second on the all-time list of Cross-Country Ski World Cup winners, the record-breaking Norwegian is tipped by some to win five golds in the Oslo Ski-VM over the next 10 days – an extra-special achievement on home soil that would crown her comeback in style.