The Norwegian women’s cross country team couldn’t shake off its losing streak on Saturday morning, finishing a disappointing fifth place in the 20 kilometre relay. Adding to the Norwegian’s heartbreak was the fact rivals Sweden took home the gold medal, its first of the Sochi Olympics, after Charlotte Kalla closed an intimidating 25 second gap to overtake Finland and Germany in the last seconds of the final leg.
The Norwegian women were the favourites heading into the event, having won the last three championship relay races reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The lead changed dozens of times throughout the race, but Norway never led the pack. Heidi Weng was underwhelming in the first five kilometre run, finishing her first lap in ninth position before catching up to end her leg in fourth place, 6.5 seconds behind leaders Russia.
Therese Johaug started strong, climbing to second place at the beginning of her leg. At the end of her first lap she was in fourth position, just 0.9 seconds behind the leader, before falling away in her second lap to finish fifth, 13.4 seconds behind the Swedish leg winner. NRK reported it was clear her skis weren’t optimally prepared, as her glide was much worse than the other competitors’ on the downhill sections. Meanwhile Polish ski star Justyna Kowalczyk ran down the leaders from the back part of the pack, narrowly seizing fourth spot from Johaug.
Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen pulled Norway back to fourth position but fell further and further behind the leaders, ending her run in fifth place 33.4 seconds behind leg winners Finland. In the final leg, team anchor Marit Bjørgen managed to claw back a little bit of time, but never came near the top three. Finland led for most of the leg but it was neck and neck between Finland, Germany and Sweden in the final straight, before Kalla powered home to take the gold. Norway was just beaten by France in the final metres to take what NRK called an “unthinkable” fifth place, 53.6 seconds behind the Swedes.
Waxing team blamed
The post-race commentary on TV2 immediately turned to the preparation of the women’s skis. Norway has the “world’s best waxing team,” and invests huge amounts of time, money and expertise into perfecting the athletes’ glide. “We bombed on the skis,” admitted waxing chief Knut Nystad to TV2 after the race. Social media exploded with criticism over the job the waxing experts had done.
“I didn’t have optimal skis,” said Bjørgen. “It’s a part of the game to have good skis. It affects whether you can fight for an Olympic gold.” Weng felt she had good grip, but said the other teams have insanely good skis. “It’s such an easy trail too, so it’s difficult to take in,” she said.
NRK expert commentator Torgeir Bjørn said while all the Norwegian women had difficult skis, the equipment was only partly to blame. “The Norwegian girls don’t seem to be in top form,” he said. The female cross country skiers and biathletes have failed to perform as expected in the last several events.