Marit Bjørgen, the most decorated Winter Olympian with 15 medals, is retiring from cross-country skiing, one month after her fifth Olympics.
“I don’t have the motivation needed to give 100 percent for another season, and that’s why I choose to retire,” the 38-year-old mother told Norwegian TV, according to The Associated Press. “It’s been an era in my life, more than 20 years. So it’s special thing to say that this is my last season as a top athlete.”
Bjørgen capped her career with five medals, including two golds, in PyeongChang to break countryman Ole Einar Bjørndalen‘s record for most Winter Olympic medals. She was the most decorated athlete in any sport in PyeongChang.
She also tied Bjørndalen, who announced his retirement Tuesday, and 1990s Norwegian cross-country star Bjørn Daehlie for the Winter Games gold medal record of eight.
“She’s the greatest female skier of all time,” five-time U.S. Olympian Kikkan Randall said last year. Bjørgen and Randall both took the 2015-16 season off to have baby boys. When they returned, Randall noticed Bjørgen more open. They conversed about their children.
Bjørgen was most dominant in her Olympic farewell, winning the last event of the PyeongChang Games, the 30km, by 109 seconds, the largest Olympic cross-country margin of victory in 38 years.
Bjørgen also earned 26 world championships medals, including 18 golds, from 2003 through 2017, and won a record 114 individual World Cup races in 303 starts since 1999, with four overall season titles.
The next-highest athlete, longtime rival Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, won 50 World Cups.
(In 2010, Kowalczyk made news by telling Polish media after Norway’s Olympic relay win that “[Bjørgen] wouldn’t have won without her medicine,” referring to Bjørgen’s use of an inhaler for asthma. Kowalczyk later backtracked. “I’m really sorry, because this was not a good time to have this conversation. This was not an attack on Marit. Marit to me is a very good athlete.” There has never been a report of Bjørgen failing a drug test, and she is respected on the international circuit, namely by U.S. veterans.)
Like Jessie Diggins, who won the first U.S. Olympic cross-country title with Randall in the team sprint in PyeongChang. Diggins remembered winning a World Cup over Bjørgen for the first time in 2016. Bjørgen congratulated her by name. Diggins was impressed that Bjørgen even knew her name.
“She embodies professionalism more than anyone I’ve ever met,” Diggins said. “She notices what other people do well.”
Bjørgen, who grew up on a farm outside Trondheim in Central Norway, made her Olympic debut at Salt Lake City in 2002, without a World Cup top-10 finish to her name.
She was 50th in her first Olympic event. She left those Games with a silver medal in the relay, though she skied the slowest leg of any of the 12 women on the podium.
Bjørgen made her rise between Salt Lake City and Torino 2006, winning World Cup overall titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 with individual gold medals at both world championships in that Olympic cycle, too.
But Bjørgen left Torino with just a single silver medal, plagued by illness.
She struggled between the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, with a best individual finish of ninth at the world championships in 2007 and 2009. She didn’t win any individual World Cup races in the 2008-09 season.
But Bjørgen stormed back at the Vancouver Olympics, earning medals in all five of her events, including three golds. After earning four world titles each in 2011 and 2013, Bjørgen won another three golds in Sochi, setting herself up for the possibility of passing Bjørndalen in PyeongChang.
She and four-time 1990s Olympic Nordic combined medalist Fred Børre Lundberg have dated since 2005. She gave birth to son Marius in December 2015, then came back the following season to earn four gold medals at worlds for a third time.
With the retirements of Bjørgen and Bjørndalen this week, the most decorated active Olympians are swimmer Ryan Lochte with 12 medals and Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst with 11.
Wüst, 31, earned five medals in Sochi and three in PyeongChang, which gives her a shot at Bjørgen’s record of 15 if she competes in Beijing in 2022. However, Wüst was quoted in Dutch media in PyeongChang saying she was only committing to skating through the 2019-20 season.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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