Norway’s gold rush goes on

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The Norwegian women’s relay team mined even more gold at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (Ski-VM) on Thursday, winning the popular event known as stafett in Scandinavia. They were joined on the podium by Sweden and Finland, with all their prime ministers and royal families cheering along with the thousands of others in the stands.

Marit Bjørgen races into the arms of her relay team colleagues after they all won gold at the world championships on Thursday. PHOTO: Stian Broch

Marit Bjørgen was assured of her historic fourth gold medal at the world championships after teammates Vibeke Skofterud, Therese Johaug and Kristin Størmer Steira had done their jobs well during their earlier five-kilometer legs of the four-part relay. All together, they ran the 20-kilometer (12 mile) course in just 53 minutes and 30 seconds.

Størmer Steira was hailed especially for running a great race, and by the time she handed off to Bjørgen, the Norwegian team was nearly 38 seconds ahead of their next-closest competitors, the Swedes. Finland’s team, in third place, was around 40 seconds behind Sweden.

Bjørgen and Swedish skiing star Charlotte Kalla were then left to go for gold in the last leg of the relay, but Bjørgen had a huge head start. Even after slowing down to accept a Norwegian flag as she neared the finish line, Bjørgen finished the race 36.1 seconds ahead of Kalla, grabbing the gold for Norway with Sweden taking silver and Finland bronze. Italy, Germany and Russia placed fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.

The victorious Norwegian relay team (from left): Kristin Størmer Steira, Vibeke Skofterud, Therese Johaug and Marit Bjørgen. PHOTO: Stian Broch/Oslo 2011

Expectations had been high for the Norwegian women, who also made up the relay team that won gold at last year’s Olympics in Vancouver. Spectators roared as normal at Holmenkollen and the royal box was packed with not only Norway’s King Harald, Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Princess Astrid but also Queen Margrethe of Denmark and Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria and her new husband Daniel. It got even more full when the Norwegian team trooped up to accept their congratulations, all wearing their gold jackets that Skofterud said made her feel like “a spaceman.”

Also in the grandstands were not only Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg but also Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden and Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi of Finland. That meant that all the medal winners had their prime ministers in place, and they were mightily impressed by the women’s performance. Reinfeldt noted the sheer strength they exhibited, which he thought was clearer to see live at Holmenkollen than on a television screen.

Stoltenberg won the honor of handing out the flower bouquets to all the winners, and getting plenty of hugs and kisses along the way. It was one big, festive party, with the stadium’s announcer even getting the thousands in the grandstands to yell “congratulations” in unison, in a variety of languages.

The fog that had settled over Holmenkollen a few days ago finally began to lift towards the end of the race, and the sun was coming out. “I’m just very, very glad right now, and relieved,” Størmer Steira, who was busy taking pictures of her own during the festivities, told NRK. Bjørgen, who has won three gold medals already in individual events, graciously gave her teammates credit for Thursday’s victory.

“It’s a dream, but there are so many who contribute to this,” summed up Skoftefud. “We thank them all.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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