Bjørgen’s back, with her baby

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Norwegian ski queen Marit Bjørgen has not given up her crown. Less than a year after giving birth to her first child, Marius, Bjørgen made what sports commentators were calling “the perfect comeback” on the ski trails over the weekend.

Marit Bjørgen cheers after crossing the finish line first, with Therese Johaug of Norway right behind her. Bjørgen skied the 30-kilometer (18-mile) course in Sochi in just one hour, 11 minutes and 5.2 seconds. Johaug was 2.6 seconds behind that and Steira finished with a time of one hour, 11 minutes and 28.8 seconds. PHOTO: Sochi 2014

Marit Bjørgen has crossed many finish lines in her long career as the world’s top cross-country skier, like here at the 30-kilometer (18-mile) course at the Olympics in Sochi two years ago. She did it again over the weekend and is now making a comeback on the World Cup circuit, after having a baby last winter. PHOTO: Sochi 2014

“I think Marit is still capable of outclassing the rest of the world this season,” Bjørgen’s national skiing teammate Ingvild Flugstad Østberg told newspaper Aftenposten after Bjørgen handily won the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle race at Norway’s own season opener at Beitostølen. The now-36-year-old multiple World Champion and Olympic gold medalist finished 11 seconds ahead of Heidi Weng after a strong push towards the finish line. Østberg was third.

Bjørgen herself was relieved, after what she called a “tangled” way back to the top. She hadn’t skied in a race on snow for 603 days, had to adjust to her role as a mother and battled various injuries. She told news bureau NTB that she even worried she wouldn’t be able to race over the weekend: “I was really congested on Wednesday and thought there wouldn’t be any race, but finally I managed it and it was good with a victory.”

Aftenposten reported that she slept in one room while her partner Fred Børre Lundberg slept in another with 10-month-old Marius the night before the race. Bjørgen thus woke up refreshed at 7:30am, fed Marius and changed his diaper, then left for the starting line just after 9am. And ended up winning.

‘More relaxed’
“I was more relaxed than earlier before a race,” she said. “I was a little nervous when I got to the stadium to test the skis, otherwise I’ve been very relaxed.” Things are different now, she said: “I have another focus, I don’t have just a ski race to think about any longer.”

She thanked Lundberg, a former world champion himself in combined skiing and ski jumping, after the race. “He has been outstanding,” Bjørgen said. “It has been tough at times, but he has motivated me. He has taken care of Marius so I could train, and sleep.”

Now the next challenge lies ahead: The World Cup opener at Ruka in Finland, where Bjørgen will compete in the sprint classic and the 10-kilometer classic. Marius won’t be joining Bjørgen for the trip to Finland, though. “It will be the first time I’m away from him for a lengthier period, but I think it will go well,” she told Aftenposten. “And I know he’ll be fine together with papa.”

Another person will be missing from the World Cup opener, Bjørgen’s biggest rival but good friend, Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug. She remains on suspension after testing positive for a steroid after using a cream to fight lip sores late last summer. Bjørgen has said she’ll miss Johaug as the World Cup racing season gets underway. Johaug, who claims she’s “so totally innocent” of knowingly ingesting a banned substance, has indicated she’s as determined as Bjørgen to make a comeback, too. Berglund