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Marit Bjørgen, most decorated Winter Olympian, retires

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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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Marit Bjoergen eyes Winter Olympic medal record

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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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MORE: Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall make history

Two athletes may vie for Winter Olympic medal record in PyeongChang

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Marit Bjørgen knows that she can break the record for career Winter Olympic medals and gold medals in PyeongChang.

She’s also aware that the current record holder could add to his tally, too.

A pair of Norwegian legends will compete in their final Olympics and compete against each other, but not in the same events, in February.

Bjørgen, a 37-year-old cross-country skier and mother, has won 10 medals, including six golds, among the last four Winter Games. She is already the most decorated woman in Winter Olympic history.

Bjørgen is three medals (and two golds) shy of the overall Winter Olympic medal record. That’s held by Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen, a 43-year-old who is expected to race in his seventh Winter Games.

Cross-country skiing and biathlon are two sports where athletes can rack up several medals throughout the 16 days of the Games, both individually and in relays.

Bjørgen said it’s a dream — but not a goal — and certainly motivation to try and pass Bjørndalen’s record in PyeongChang, according to Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG).

Bjørndalen snatched the title in Sochi, passing another Norwegian, retired cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie, by one total medal and tying Dæhlie’s record for golds.

Incredibly, Bjørgen could be favored to pass Bjørndalen in five months, a little more than two years after giving birth to son Marius.

She returned to competition last season and dominated the world championships, winning three of the four individual events and anchoring Norway’s winning relay team.

Bjørndalen earned one medal at the 2017 World Biathlon Championships — a bronze.

If Bjørgen and Bjørndalen repeat those medal takeaways in PyeongChang, Bjørgen will tie Bjørndalen in total medals and pass him in golds by two to become the most decorated Winter Olympian in history.

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