Norway pulled in two more gold medals and a silver Tuesday afternoon as both the Norwegian men and women cross-country skiers swept over the finish lines first at the end of their sprint races. It wasn’t the more well-known stars who won, either, but some relative newcomers to the world of Olympic victory.
Ola Vigen Hattestad won what a former skier-turned-commentator called “the most well-deserved gold I have ever seen,” after he’d fallen ill during the last Olympics in Vancouver and worked hard on making a comeback. Maiken Caspersen Falla won her first Olympic gold medal, too, followed closely by Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, who took silver. Both are in their early 20s, and seen as representing the next promising generation of Norwegian skiers.
They were all jubilant and emotions ran high, not least for the women racers who included Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen. The death of Jacobsen’s brother and training partner on Friday had plunged the Norwegian ski team into sorrow, leading the women to race on Saturday wearing black armbands in a show of support for Jacobsen. The women won, with Marit Bjørgen winning gold and Heidi Weng bronze, but incurred a reprimand from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which claimed the armbands broke IOC rules. IOC member Gerhard Heiberg has since apologized in the face of massive criticism, admitting that the IOC should have been more understanding.
There were more tears at the finish line Tuesday as Jacobsen, who took part in the sprint race despite her grief, hugged the winning Falla. Jacobsen placed an impressive fourth, just behind Østberg, while Vesna Fabjan of Slovenia placed third.
Crown Prince Haakon, who was among the spectators in Sochi, called the double Norwegian victory with both gold and silver medals “fantastic” and was also impressed with Jacobsen’s performance. “I think she did really well,” Norway’s crown prince told VG.no. “She’s in a difficult situation, so it showed strength to rise up and race.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was also quick to send her congratulations. “What a golden day!” Solberg tweeted right after the races. “A new generation of women skiers won us gold and silver, congratulations Maiken Caspersen Falla and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg. Ola Vigen Hattestad followed up with an overwhelming gold. Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen impressed everyone with her race. Congratulations!”
Hattestad was also elated after avoiding a massive fall among several of the men in the afternoon’s sprint final. The fall involved such skiing stars as Marcus Hellner of Sweden, leaving Hattestad and Teodor Peterson of Sweden to race for the finish line. Hattestad was first.
“I don’t know what to say, and haven’t really comprehended what happened,” Hattestad told TV2. “This is just incredibly fun and means everything.” He noted that winning an Olympic sprint is something he’d been missing in his collection of skiing victories.
Both he and Falla won over the more high-profile skiing stars like Marit Bjørgen, who also took a fall during the sprint, and Petter Northug, who didn’t even get past the semi-final. Both were gracious about their own personal losses, with Bjørgen praising all her teammates, not least Jacobsen, and Northug congratulating Hattestad and admitting that he’d saved the Norwegian men’s honour. Swedish skiers Peterson and Emil Joensson took the silver and bronze respectively.
“He (Hattestad) has been a great sprinter and shows he’s back on top again,” Northug said. “He’s worked hard to come back.” Hattestad had placed fourth at the last Olympics in Vancouver, after getting sick, and had trained to win in Sochi.