KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – So, it appears the Norwegians have put those ski prep problems behind them.
At the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center on Saturday, three Norwegian women ran away from a strong field in the women’s 30km freestyle race, going all out from the opening gun and finishing 1-2-3.
The gold went to Marit Bjoergen, her third gold medal of the Games; the silver to Therese Johaug, her first medal at Sochi; and the bronze to Kristin Stoermer Steira, who also got her first medal.
The Norwegians set a blistering pace, and Bjoergen finished in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 5.2 seconds, on another warm, sunny day at Laura. Johaug was 2.6 seconds behind, and Steira 23.6 seconds back. It was the first-ever Olympic medal sweep for the Norwegian women.
“It’s incredible,” said Bjoergen. “We’re all Norwegian and we’re all on the podium. This has been a goal for me for a long time. I thought the 30K would be hard but I’ve felt very good in the last days. We weren’t that good in the relay so we showed today that we are the best.”
“This time we had really good skis from the start,” said Norwegian coach Egil Kristiansen. “We tried them before the race and they felt really good. Our aim was to go as a team for the first 20km. (The medals) were well-deserved.”
While Norway’s men have had a disappointing time in cross-country at these Games, Saturday’s sweep gives Norway a tie with Sweden in cross-country medals, with 11. They lead Sweden in gold medals, five to two, with just one cross-country event remaining, the men’s 50km freestyle on Sunday.
Bjoergen, who now has six gold medals, three silver and one bronze in her Olympic career, is tied for the most total medals with Stefania Belmondo of Italy and Raisa Smetanina, who represented the Soviet Union and the Unified Team. Bjoergen’s six golds are more than either of her co-record-holders.
The closest racer to Bjoergen who was not from Norway was fourth-place finisher Kerttu Niskanen of Finland, more than a minute and 20 seconds behind.
For the U.S., the top finisher was Liz Stephen in 24th, with a time of 1:14:11.8, 3:06.6 out. Holly Brooks was 27th in 1:14:58.3, Kikkan Randall 28th in 1:15:10.7 and Jessica Diggins 40th in 1:18:13.0, just over seven minutes behind the winner.
“Today I wanted to come out here and smile as big as I could on the start line,” said Stephen. “I did that and I skied with no stress out there. I was trying to enjoy myself because that’s when I ski my best. I’m just happy to have started my fifth Olympic race ever. What a day to race, for sure. It was hot and there were tons of fans. I’m just happy to be here and to have a great team around me. Certainly I was hoping to have better results today, but what can you do? You go out and you try your hardest and that’s what I did. Some days it works and some days it doesn’t.”
Stephen said that there was a lot of pressure on the U.S. team going into the Games, “and good pressure, because it means people are watching, people care and we have the chance to potentially get a podium in a lot of races here this year. That was really exciting.”
The race had 57 starters, and 54 finishers. One of the DNF’s was the defending Olympic champion in the 30km mass start, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, one of the favorites coming in. She abandoned the race about halfway through. She and Finland’s Aino-Kaisa Saarinen had gotten their skis tangled early on, and Kowalczyk later said, “I got hit by somebody in the first stage and I tried to continue but it (the pain) was more than I could bear.”
Russian, Austrian win snowboard parallel slalom titles
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Julia Dujmovits of Austria won gold in the women’s snowboard parallel slalom on Saturday, after recovering from a slow first run to defeat Germany’s Anke Karstens in the final run. Dujmovits becomes the first Austrian to win an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding.
Amelie Kober of Germany won bronze after beating Corinna Boccacini in the race for third at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
In the men’s race, Russia’s Vic Wild, who took Russian citizenship after emigrating from the U.S., became the first athlete of any nation to win two snowboard gold medals at a single Olympic Winter Games when he won the men’s parallel slalom. He captured the parallel GS on Thursday.
Wild’s gold was the 10th for Russia at the Sochi Games, which is one shy of its record 11 gold medals in 1994. Russia has now won 27 medals at the Sochi Games, which ties the United States at the top of the medal standings.
The silver medal in men’s parallel slalom went to Zan Kosir of Slovenia; he was bronze medalist in parallel GS. Bronze medalist Benjamin Karl of Austria won his second Olympic medal after claiming silver in the parallel giant slalom in Vancouver four years ago.
A big crowd showed up in the stadium at Rosa Khutor to cheer on the local favorites. Wild came through, but in the women’s event, Russians Ekaterina Tudegesheva, the 2013 world champion; parallel giant slalom bronze medalist Alena Zavarzina, Wild’s wife; and Natalia Soboleva all failed to make it past the the 1/8 finals.
“Beyond believable,” said Wild of his second gold. “All those power drills I did in the summer, they really paid off. Nobody could keep up. It has taken a lot of hard work, man. When everyone else in the summer is taking vacation, I’m working hard. I train, I train, and it paid off.”
Said gold medalist Dujmovits, “I don’t know what to say. I’m just so happy and thankful. I have had a lot of injuries. My ACL twice. I just never gave up. To be Olympic champion today is amazing.”
Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland, gold medalist in the parallel GS, also failed to win her 1/8 final run.
The only U.S. rider in the competition was Justin Reiter, who was disqualified in the qualification round and didn’t make it into the heats.
Coming up tomorrow:
(All times for Sochi; subtract nine hours for EST)
Cross-country. The final day of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games brings the most grueling cross-country race of all, the men’s 50km freestyle. The pain begins at 11 a.m.
Closing ceremonies. And that’s a wrap. The closing ceremonies get under way at 8 p.m. in the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Olympic Park in Sochi.