Is it terrible to admit that when I turned on coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, today, I treated coverage of the Ladies’ 30KM Mass Start cross-country ski race as little more than background noise?
My initial lack of respect, however, quickly gave way to something close to awe — as these crazy-fit athletes powered through a long and snowy course whose uphill climbs looked so daunting that I decided simply watching from my couch was all the exercise I’d need for the day.
The first big thrill came at the 10KM mark, as Norway’s leading trio of Marit Bjoergen, Therese Johaug and Kristin Stoermer Steira had to make a crucial decision: Stop and swap out their skis or carry onward and hope the calculated risk paid off. All three chose the latter option (as did the bulk of the athletes behind them), and then, slowly but steadily, began to separate from the pack.
Announcers Al Trautwig and Chad Salmela cautioned that the move might be premature, while reminding the audience that Norway’s “wax technicians” had been under fire midway through the games after its athletes failed to medal in the team relay events. (And here I thought “wax technicians” performed an altogether different — and far less sports-related — service at the day spa down the street from me!)
In the final kilometers, it became clear that Norway was on its way to a sweep — its three women now more than a full minute ahead of a dozen or so women in the second flight. And then it became a mere matter of which medal would go to which Norwegian.
Stoermer Steira was the first to yield — not a surprise after watching her gaspingly sip some water late in the race, a refreshment that her two rivals zipped past without indulging. And while Johaug attempted to outpace Bjoergen in the final uphill run — knowing the latter veteran was the stronger finisher — she never got the separation she needed.
Bjoergen, smiling delightedly, pulled ahead as they entered the stadium and drove to victory — collecting her 10th Olympic medal (a record among female athletes in the Winter Games) in what she admitted would be her final performance on the Olympic stage.
What Olympic event held your attention on Saturday? Sound off in the comments!