Marit Bjoergen is heading to PyeongChang looking for a three-peat of her three-peat.
Bjoergen, the most successful female cross-country skier in history, won three gold medals in each of the past two Winter Games and will be looking to make it three in a row when the Olympics open Feb. 9.
Bjoergen owns 10 medals overall, tied with Raisa Smetanina and Stefania Belmondo as the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever.
She is three medals shy of the overall Winter Olympic medal record held by countryman and biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.
Behind Bjoergen, Norway won 11 cross-country medals in Sochi — including five gold — to tie the country’s record.
The Norwegian team once again looks like the team to beat despite losing one of its top athletes to a doping ban.
“They are the traditional powerhouse in our sport,” said Jeff Ellis with the International Ski Federation (FIS). “They know how to get ready on time for the Olympics, which is a big deal. They are one of those nations.”
Things to know about the sport entering the PyeongChang Olympics:
WHAT IS IT: Cross-country skiing is a competition where skiers rely on their own locomotion to move themselves across snow-covered terrain — some flat, some hilly — wearing skinny skies and with the aid of poles. Cross-country skiing has been an event at the Winter Olympic Games since their inception in 1924 in Chamonix, France.
WHAT THEY’RE COMPETING FOR: There are six men’s and six women’s cross-country events at this year’s Winter Games. The men compete in the 15km classic, 30km skiathlon, sprint free, team sprint, 50km free mass start and 4x10km relay. The women compete in the 10km classic, 15km skiathlon, sprint free, team sprint, 30km mass start and 4x5km relay.
MEDAL FAVORITES: Dario Cologna from Switzerland won gold medals in the 15km classic and the 30kr skiathlon in Sochi four years ago. The 31-year-old Cologna, known as “Super Dario,” passed Sweden’s Marcus Hellner on the final climb and went on to win a tightly contested 30-kilometer skiathlon. Cologna remains at the top of his game, winning his fourth Tour de Ski overall title to start the new year. On the women’s side, Bjoergen could be challenged for gold by teammates Heidi Weng and Ingvild Flugstad and Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla in the 15km skiathlon.
BEST MATCHUPS: Expect some fireworks in the women’s relay following an edge-of-your-seat finish in 2014 in which Charlotte Kalla fought back from 25 seconds down on the final leg to win it for Sweden. Surely, Finnish and German skiers haven’t forgotten their epic meltdown on the final leg and will be looking for a bit of revenge. Kalla has spent most of her career in Bjoergen’s shadow but could be ready for a breakout Olympics.
RISING STARS: Norway’s Johannes Klaebo, 21, won seven of nine World Cup races before Christmas. For the women, Kalla was atop the World Cup leaderboard before Christmas before taking time off — as many of the top Olympians do — to begin focusing on South Korea. Also, keep a close eye on Weng, who recently won her second straight Tour de Ski.
AMERICAN HOPEFUL: The Americans don’t have a great history with cross-country skiing — they have only won one Olympic medal in the sport’s history — but Jessie Diggins might be the country’s best hope. The fun-loving Diggins is the most decorated U.S. cross-country skier, male or female, in world championships history. She ranks third in this season’s World Cup standings.
FALLEN STAR: Two-time World Cup overall champion Therese Johaug is barred from racing until mid-April following a doping ban. The 29-year-old Norwegian tested positive for an anabolic agent listed in the contents of a treatment for sunburn, and a Court of Arbitration for Sport panel announced in August an 18-month ban was “appropriate.”
POTENTIAL RECORD-SETTERS: Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestadand won the Sochi sprint freestyle and is capable of bettering his time in Pyeongchang, where the sprint will be skied in the classic technique. For the women, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, who won the 10km classic in Sochi, could be a factor. Former Tour de Ski champion Sergey Ustiugov from Russia is expected to medal, too.
OLYMPIAN EFFORT: Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless, oiled-up flag-bearing taekwondo competitor from Tonga who turned heads at the Summer Games in Rio two years ago, is now trying his hand at being a cross-country skier. He is one race from qualifying for PyeongChang. Although it’s hard to imagine him shirtless and oiled up in sub-freezing temperatures at the Winter Games.
WHERE IT HAPPENS: The cross-country events will be held at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre, which is located in the PyeongChang Mountain Cluster.
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