Cross-country classics: Top 8 Sochi Moments
A sport where athletes routinely ignore burning muscles and push their bodies to the extreme – hence the ever-present collapse at the finish line – produced plenty of remarkable moments at the 2014 Winter Olympics. With men and women each competing in six events, there was cross-country action almost every day of the Games. Athletes raced with broken bones, records were shattered, and massive sprints to the finish were plentiful. Here’s a look back on eight unforgettable moments in cross-country from the 2014 Sochi Games.
Bjorgen overcomes Norway’s waxing hurdles
Marit Bjorgen finished her 2014 Olympics the same way she began it – with gold. In the first event of the Games, she earned an emotional victory following the unexpected death of teammate Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen’s brother. Following Bjorgen’s opening win, Norway found its success dwindling, as the nation failed to medal in both the men and women’s relay events (a “tragedy”) and lacked any trace of the dominance that typically characterizes the Norwegian team. Fingers were pointed (mostly at the wax technicians), mothers criticized sons – Martin Johnsrud Sundby’s mom deemed him “the worst Norwegian” – and yet the team was still unable to come up with answers. The tides turned in the team sprint, when Bjorgen proved once again why she is one of the best cross-country athletes in the world. She won the event with Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg, and followed up two days later by leading Norway to a podium sweep in the grueling 30km mass start.
Embedded video_content_type: Analysis of women's 30km mass start
Her final win was also historic one, as she equaled the record for most decorated female Winter Olympian in history (10) and broke the record for most Olympic golds (6). Bjorgen will make a decision after next year’s Worlds as to whether she will continue racing, but is doubtful about competing in the 2018 Games. Regardless, in Sochi Marit Bjorgen solidified her legacy as one of cross-country’s all-time greats.
In November, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna had ankle surgery to repair a torn ligament. Prior to the Olympics, it was unclear if he would recover enough to compete at the highest level because he had only returned to competition a month before the Games. Well, a month seemed to be more than enough, as Cologna skied his way to an emphatic win over Marcus Hellner in the first men’s cross-country event of the Games, the skiathlon.
Embedded video_content_type: 'Super' Dario Cologna wins men's skiathlon in dramatic fashion
To top off his comeback, Cologna won gold again in the men’s 15km classic (the event he also won in Vancouver). Cologna had his fair share of bad luck during the Games, like falling in the individual sprint and breaking a ski in the mass start when he was in medal contention, but no one will argue that in Sochi, the Swiss cemented his position as one of cross-country’s current leaders.
43-year-old Peruvian Roberto Carcelen finished dead last in the men’s 15km classic, almost a half hour after winner Dario Cologna. Competing with a broken rib, Carcelen was enthusiastically cheered for the duration of his ski. He later said to reporters that the few dozens of Peruvian supporters gave him the strength to try and do his best in the tricky conditions. As he crossed the line, someone from the crowd yelled out “asi se hace” – you did it. Just as heartwarming as Carcelen’s effort was the fact that when he finally finished, Peruvian flag in hand, Cologna was waiting to congratulate him. This was an incredibly inspiring Olympics moment, as well as an important reminder that the Games are about so much more than winning a medal.
Embedded video_content_type: Carcelen breaks rib, completes race, finishes in style
Broken foot can’t stop Kowalczyk
Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk overpowered her competition in the 10km classic despite competing with a foot fracture. Athletes often compete with some adversity, but winning gold on the Olympic stage with a broken bone is quite remarkable.
Embedded video_content_type: Justyna Kowalczyk wins 10km cross-country classic on broken foot
Kowalczyk could not maintain her stellar form all week though, ultimately dropping out of the women’s 30km mass start about halfway through the event. But her perseverance through the pain in the 10km was certainly a notable cross-country moment.
By all accounts, it looked like the Swedes were out of the race. Finland and Germany were 25 seconds ahead of anchor Charlotte Kalla, and Marit Bjorgen was chasing close behind. But what would the Olympics be without a little drama? Emitting a Herculean effort as she headed into the stadium, Kalla made a gutsy maneuver to erase the deficit, and then “skied like a god” to overtake both leaders for a thrilling first place finish.
Embedded video_content_type: Sweden comes from behind to win 4x5 relay
The following day, the Swedish men won their own gold in the event –albeit in less dramatic fashion (anchor Marcus Hellner had time to grab a flag before crossing the finish line) – securing a coveted relay sweep for their country.
Embedded video_content_type: Men secure Sweden's cross-country relay sweep
Broken ski, unbroken spirit
Russia’s Anton Gafarov was no medal contender. In fact, the 2014 Sochi Games marked the 27-year-old’s Olympic debut. But cross-country is the center of his world – “skiing is like breathing,” he told reporters, and he “couldn’t imagine [his] life without competing.” In Sochi, Gafarov did better than expected, making it to the semifinals of the men’s free sprint semifinal. But that result paled in comparison to his larger contribution to the Games. On a day filled with numerous collisions, Gafarov came sprinting around a corner in his heat. He too succumbed to the soft snow, damaging one of his skis as he crashed into a wall. But as NBC.com National Sports columnist Joe Posnanski wrote in his column ("After cross-country crash in Sochi, a lesson in crying"): “Gafarov wanted to finish the race. So he pulled himself along … And so when the others had finished, he was still in the middle of the course, fighting his way step by step.” To add to the Olympic spirit demonstrated by Gafarov’s perseverance, Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth ran up to him to deliver a replacement ski. As Posnanski wrote: “Gafarov finished the race long after everyone else. But he finished.” Particularly because this all occurred in a less mainstream sport (at least in America), this was an easily overlooked moment of the Games. It was also one of its finest, as Gafarov and Wadsworth’s actions demonstrate what it truly means to be an Olympian.
Embedded video_content_type: Crash, broken ski doesn't stop Anton Gafarov from finishing semifinal
Caldwell claims best-ever US finish
Sophie Caldwell was not the face of the US cross-country team before the 2014 Olympics. That role went to pink-haired Alaskan Kikkan Randall, whose workout is a testament to her nickname: “Kikkanimal.” But Randall disappointed in the individual sprint – the event that likely held her best shot of reaching the podium – when she was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Under the radar, Sophie Caldwell was the lone American to make it to the finals.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Women's Individual Sprint: Falla's gold, Norway's 100th
Like Gafarov, Caldwell also fell victim to the soft snow; she crashed in the final and ended up finishing last. However, her 6th place result marked the best-ever finish for a US female cross-country skier at the Olympics, a major accomplishment in itself.
Russia brings it home
Before the 50km mass start event, Russia had fallen short of its cross-country expectations. The home team had only won two silver medals after nine events. But like the Russian men’s biathlon relay team, who was undaunted by the fact that its country had yet to win gold in one of its signature winter sports, Russia persevered through the marathon-like race, achieving a podium sweep.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Men's 50km Mass Start: Legkov leads Russian podium sweep
After the final climb, it was unclear for spectators who would end up with the win; three Russians and one Norwegian, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, were battling for a place on the podium. Rounding the bend into the stadium – and no doubt inspired by the shouts of the home crowd –Aleksandr Legkov won the four-way sprint to the finish, followed by teammates Maksim Vylegzhanin and Ilia Chernousov. It was a fairy tale ending for the host nation in one of the final medal events in Sochi. The win also vaulted Russia to the top of the medal table.
Embedded video_content_type: Three Russians, three medals in men's 50km
Best of Sochi