Anything can happen in the women’s 4x5km relay and it all came down to the performance of young Veronika Stepanova of the ROC in the last two laps of the race. She anchored the last leg and emptied the tank to snatch gold out of the grasp of the German team. Stepanova crossed the finish line at 53:41.0 with Germany’s Sofie Krehl following close behind. Krehl solidified silver for Germany with a time of 53:59.2. Their silver-medal finish is Germany's first cross-country skiing medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Four years ago, Russian athletes placed third in the women’s 4x5km. They took two steps up on the podium this year and won their sixth medal at these Games.
ROC’s Yulia Stupak charged forward from the initial front group in a controlled first leg to secure an early lead. She kept her pace and confidence up to finish ahead of Germany’s Katherine Sauerbrey. Sauerbrey passed it off to her teammate and first-ranked skier in the women’s World Cup Natalya Nepryayeva. Closing out the first half of the relay, Nepryayeva couldn’t make up for the distance Germany’s Katharina Hennig got on the inclines and off the downhills. Suddenly, Victoria Carl saw a convincing chance for the Germans to clinch gold. She was set up for success in her third leg and passed ROC’s Tatiana Sorina off the curve of the downhill. Carl dialed up the pressure in the home stretch to surge away from Sorina.
After the incredible development in the third leg of the race, the German team’s dream of winning relay gold quickly seemed like it could turn into reality. Germany’s Krehl came into the last leg of the race confident, but lost steam on the incline. Stepanova was fast on her skis and defeated Krehl on the final lap to halt the German advancements toward clinching gold. She sprinted to the finish line to solidify the ROC's first gold medal in the 4x5km relay since 2006.
Only one Nordic nation won a medal in this event. Norway’s Tiril Udnes Weng fell on the first leg and the team suffered from the deficit through the whole relay. The Norwegian team got within striking distance of a medal, but was shut out by Sweden, which took bronze with a time of 54:01.7. Jonna Sundling of Sweden anchored the last leg to earn her second medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The relay team from the United States finished in sixth behind the Norwegians. Jessie Diggins anchored the last two laps of the race and finished with a time of 55:09.2. The U.S. team was composed of a mix of veterans and first-time Olympians after coaches had gone through 15 iterations of the final relay team. Hailey Swirbul, Rosie Brennan, Novie McCabe and Diggins made up the final U.S. lineup and they'll have to save their lucky "relay socks" for their next opportunity to win gold. The Americans have another shot at an Olympic title in the sprint classic on Feb. 13 at 2:00 a.m. ET.
The men’s 4x10km relay is up next in the cross-country program at the 2022 Winter Olympics and will begin on Feb. 13 at 2:00 a.m. ET.