The finish of the ladies’ 30 km in cross-country skiing at the 2010 Olympics proved to be one of the most exciting moments of the Vancouver Games. Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk edged Norways’ Marit Bjoergen by three tenths of a second that day, and they are sure to be the most compelling athletes to watch again this year, when the race takes place at 2:30 a.m. MT Saturday in Sochi.
Last year at the World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, Bjoergen was less than four seconds ahead of Kowalczyk in the endurance event. Now they meet with history on the line in what has already been a momentous Games for each.
Kowalczyk, 31, won the 10 km last week with a fractured foot, and the still-ailing five-time Olympic medalist can become the first woman to repeat the 30 km with a win. The overall World Cup leader four of the last five seasons is sixth in the standings in 2014.
The 33-year-old Bjoergen is in search of her record-tying sixth gold and 10th medal in any Winter Olympic sport. The four-time Olympian and 12-time world champion has two golds earlier in Sochi from the skiathlon and team sprint.
Six gold medals would equal (speed skater) Lidia Skoblikova and Lyubov Egorova, while 10 of any color would equal Stefania Belmondo and Raisa Smetanina.
ALSO IN THE MIX
Therese Johaug (Norway, Age 25): overall World Cup leader and highest-rated distance skier this season, bronze in the 10 km last week, seventh in the 30 km in 2010 Olympics, 2011 world champion in Oslo, and was third at last year’s World Championships.
Heidi Weng (Norway, Age 22): fourth in the World Championships at Italy last year and is fifth on the World Cup circuit this season in distance events.
Aino-Kaisa Saarinen (Finland, Age 35): defending Olympic bronze medalist, has five career medals, including two in Sochi.
Charlotte Kalla (Sweden, Age 26): three medals in Sochi and has five for her career, was sixth in the 30 km in 2010.
Kerttu Niskanen (Finland, Age 25): two silvers in Sochi already in team events.
Two-time defending World Cup sprint champion Kikkan Randall leads the American contingent of Elizabeth Stephen, Jessica Diggins and Holly Brooks.