Cross-country skiing doesn't get too much airtime in the American broadcast of the Winter Olympics, but one event got special recognition. The 30 kilometer women's mass start Olympics cross-country skiing event took place on the last day of the 2018 PyeongChang Games, so the medal ceremony for that event was part of the Games' closing ceremony.
The men's 50k mass start cross-country event happened on Saturday, but its medal ceremony was also integrated into the closing ceremony, giving the athletes honored there a particularly special experience. The men's 50k event saw Finland's Iivo Niskanen win the gold, earning his country's first gold of the games and cementing him as a national hero. The other two medalists were both Olympic Athletes from Russia, Alexander Bolshunov in silver and Andrey Larkov in bronze.
The women's 30k race also saw Finnish success, with Krista Parmakoski winning silver. However, the real story of that event was gold medalist Marit Bjoergen of Norway, who at 37 years old became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. Her gold in this event was her eighth one, capping off five medals in PyeongChang alone and 15 medals total over five Olympic Games beginning in Salt Lake City in 2002.
"When I look behind me and see what I have done, it's incredible," the Chicago Tribune reports that Bjoergen said after the race. "It has been an amazing career for me, this is my last Olympics and to finish like this is incredible."
The third person on the medal stand was Sweden's Stina Nilsson, who was surprised to win the bronze because of Austrian skier Teresa Stadlober's mistake. Stadlober was in the second position when she, unable to see Bjoergen because the Norwegian was so far ahead, took a wrong turn on the course. By the time she realized what had happened, she had fallen out of medal contention.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” said Stadlober, after the Associated Press asked her what happened. “I took the wrong way — and I did this twice. The second time I wasn’t sure anymore. I had a blackout. I don’t know why I took the wrong way.”
Bjoergen's performance made it clear from early on that she was determined to close out the PyeongChang games with a win. She maneuvered to the front soon after the start, a difficult thing to do in this particular type of race.
Instead of starting one after another in a staggered fashion, the mass start cross-country skiing event has all of the competitors starting at the same time in a group, similar to a marathon in running. If they want to get to the front, skiers from the back have to essentially maneuver their ways up through the group. In these two races, eventual gold medalists Niskanen and Bjoergen took control pretty quickly and never looked back.
Bjoergen's gold was especially important for her home country of Norway, as it solidified their medal count win in PyeongChang at 39 medals overall, including 15 golds. The nation of 5.3 million basically shuts down during the Winter Olympics, and this year the Norwegian Olympians' and fans' dedication really paid off.
“It would be difficult to imagine a better ending,” wrote Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten about the 30k women's race, as translated by the Guardian. “This was the perfect finish to the Olympics – not just for her, but also for Norway ... We have run out of superlatives.”
There were numerous cross-country events spread across the two weeks of the games, but there's a good chance that this is the only one that American fans paid much attention to. If that's the case for you, then rest assured that you saw a classic moment in the sport.