Marit Bjørgen has done it again, and in even more powerful style. Norway’s still-reigning ski queen won an absolutely overwhelming victory in the women’s 10-kilometer classic race at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Finland on Tuesday, claiming her latest gold medal by a margin that her rivals called “incredible.”
“It was an amazing race for me, I felt very strong,” Bjørgen told reporters at the finish line. At an age of 36, and just over a year after having her first baby, Bjørgen was back on top of the winners’ platform at a time when many athletes would have retired.
It was her 16th gold medal in a world championships and her second during the competition currently underway in Lahti, Finland. Bjørgen shared the platform with the defending World Champion in the 10K race, Charlotte Kalla of Sweden, who took the silver medal after Bjørgen beat her by a full 41 seconds, an almost unheard-of margin of victory in modern skiing. Bjørgen’s Norwegian teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen won the bronze medal, finishing 14.5 seconds behind Kalla, and was almost as thrilled as Bjørgen.
“This feels like the greatest I’ve ever done,” claimed Jacobsen after facing lots of difficulty over the years including the death of her brother during the last Winter Olympics in Sochi. She won gold in the World Championships in Sapporo but said there was “harder work” behind Tuesday’s bronze in Lahti. She has struggled to find her form this season, dropped the Tour de Ski and wasn’t even sure if should take part in the World Championships. Now she’s glad she did.
It was Bjørgen who drew the most adulation, though, after what sports commentators and her rivals called a “total knockout” in the 10K. It was clear from the beginning that she was strong and fast as she took an early lead, and even Kalla was shocked by the woman some call “Marit the Machine.”
“To win by 41 seconds, that’s huge,” Kalla told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the race. “It gives me chills just talking about it. I hope people really understand what a victory this was for her.”
Even though Kalla and other skiers have grown used to seeing Bjørgen win over the years, her victory on Tuesday was in a class of its own. Bjørgen simply overpowered everyone and streaked to the finish line even after admitting that she’d been nervous and worried before the race. She said later that despite her long record of gold medals in the World Championships, the Olympics and the World Cup, she never had such a good feeling as she had out on the trails of Lahti. It was also the race she wanted to win most of all after “only” winning it once before.
She took off and maintained a tempo no one came close to keeping up with. “I just heard (coaches shouting from the sidelines) that my lead went from six to 12 to 20 and 32 seconds,” Bjorgen told NRK. “Then I began to realize something big was happening.” She just wanted to keep going faster and it wasn’t until she saw a sign from the national team’s coach that she knew she could sink her speed a bit. “It just read gull (gold),” she said.
But she didn’t slow down: “It’s a wild feeling, you just get more and more strength and want to go faster and faster.” Bjørgen actually thinks her race was “perfect” and she’s not alone in that. “It was like she was playing with all the rest of us,” laughed Norwegian teammate Heidi Weng, who finished fourth.”I hope everyone watching this doesn’t think we’re all terribly bad. What Marit did today was just completely, incredibly good.”
Swedish skier Kalla was just as impressed, and said she didn’t feel de-motivated at all: “No, I’m just happy. I get to experience competing in the same era as Marit Bjørgen! She motivates me so much. She shows that if you just have the will, you can go far. Marit has really fought for this. It’s a fantastic journey she’s had.”