Bjoergen a double winner

By Mattias Karen
Associated Press / February 20, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Having finally ended her long wait for an Olympic gold medal, Marit Bjoergen sure was in a hurry to get another one.

The Norwegian cross-country skier became the first double gold-medal winner of the Vancouver Olympics yesterday after a dominant victory in the women’s 15-kilometer pursuit.

After leaving the Salt Lake City and Turin Olympics with just a silver medal from each, the four-time world champion seems right at home atop the podium at these Games.

“I knew that I was in great shape, but to take two golds, I never dreamed about it,’’ said Bjoergen, who won the individual classical sprint Wednesday. “It still hasn’t dawned on me.’’

Bjoergen pushed the pace much of the way to distance herself from her rivals midway through the freestyle portion of the race. Although her victory never looked in doubt after that, there was plenty of drama surrounding the other medals.

In a three-way fight for the silver medal, Anna Haag of Sweden pulled away from prerace favorite Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland and Kristin Stoermer Steira of Norway in the final sprint for her first Olympic medal.

Kowalczyk then took the bronze in a photo finish - even though Steira’s name initially came up as the third-place finisher on the scoreboard. After reviewing footage of the finish, race official determined that the front of Kowalczyk’s boot had passed the line a fraction of a second before the Norwegian’s, as both lunged their legs forward.

Unlike in the sprint, Bjoergen had the luxury of slowing down and enjoying the moment as she neared the finish. She entered the ski stadium with a comfortable lead, raising her hands in the air to salute the flag-waving Norwegian fans as she paraded down the final straightaway.

It’s clear the first gold has eased some of the pressure on the 29-year-old Bjoergen.

“I said, ‘Now I can relax and have fun,’ ’’ she said. “And today, I really had fun.’’

Bjoergen, who also won bronze in the 10K, was up front from the start and used a grueling pace to break up the field. By the 5K mark, only seven skiers remained in the leading group, and only Kowalczyk and Finnish veteran Aino-Kaisa Saarinen managed to stay with her all the way into the stadium for the ski change.

The full seven-member group was soon intact again, however, before Bjoergen’s rivals started dropping off one by one. With only the last four remaining, Steira went up front to push the pace in an uphill section, getting a small gap on the others before signaling to Bjoergen to help her out.

“Then I attacked, and I got a gap,’’ Bjoergen said.

“With about a kilometer to go, they told me I had a 20-second lead. Then I knew that this was my day.’’