Norwegian ski queen Marit Bjørgen retained her crown on the opening day of the Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden on Thursday. She was the favourite once again, and she didn’t disappoint herself or her fans.
Bjørgen was, however, almost completely overshadowed by fellow Norwegian Petter Northug, who made a spectacular comeback on the ski slopes by also winning gold after a terrible year. Bjørgen took it in stride, as did the two other Norwegians who won medals on what turned into a brilliant beginning for Norway at the World Championships.
“I think it was very important for Petter (to finally win gold again),” Bjørgen told state broadcaster NRK. And every victory is important to her, too, even though they’ve become so commonplace that she’s been nominated as international Sportswoman of the Year.
And her victory came even though Bjørgen admitted she wasn’t feeling like she was in top shape on Thursday. Her years of experience in international competition and “stayer power” paid off. “Now I’ve achieved my goal of an individual gold medal (in the women’s classic sprint), so I can lower my shoulders,” she told NRK.
The 34-year-old skier from Rognes is on her way to delivering her best season ever, even better than last year when she won multiple gold medals at the Olympics in Sochi. This year she could finally win the tough Tour de Ski for the first time, and she already has chalked up enough points to win the overall World Cup this year, too.
Thursday’s victory gave Bjørgen her 13th gold medal in World Championship competition and her fourth in the sprint. If she wins two more golds, she’ll break the record of 14 gold medals won by Elena Välbes, and the odds were in Bjørgen’s favour.
Nearly lost in all the hype over Northug’s victory was Ola Vigen Hattestad’s bronze medal in the men’s sprint, behind Alex Harvey of Canada and Northug, while Maiken Caspersen Falla won the bronze medal in the women’s sprint, behind Stina Nilsson of Sweden and Bjørgen.
Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg placed fifth and sixth respectively, while Tomas Northug, Petter’s brother, placed sixth.