That cross-country skiing is pretty much a Scandinavian thing, with the occasional central European making a challenge, was shown once again in the 30-kilometer women’s mass-start marathon on Saturday, which was dominated by the three Norwegians, headed by Marit Bjoergen, taking gold, silver, and bronze.
As the race trudged on, Spanish hopes of securing at least one medal from the Winter Olympics in Sochi might have been fleetingly kindled as Laura Orgué joined the group chasing the Norwegian trio. In the event, Orgué came 10th, her best result since her debut in Turin in 2006, and the highest any Spaniard has ever come in this grueling event. Her reward was to carry the Spanish team’s flag at Sunday night’s closing ceremony.
The 30-kilometer marathon is always one of the most spectacular events in the Winter Games, and there were 54 all setting off at the same time on Saturday, jostling for position. The three Norwegians quickly pulled ahead, holding onto their lead until the end, leaving the other skiers to wait until the final kilometer to stage a sprint. After the 30 kilometers atop the snow, 10 competitors all crossed the line within four seconds of each other, among them Orgué. “I am very happy because I have been aware of what was going on around me at all times, keeping an eye on the group I was in to see who was able to go fastest,” she said after the event.
Joan Erola, her coach, said he was pleased at Orgué’s result: “Everything went well today. She was in good physical and psychological shape, and just as importantly, her kit worked well. The course also favored her, with its uphill finish, which is her strength.”
Equally important is the Olympic experience that Orgué has now accumulated. As well as Turin, the skier, aged 27, competed at Vancouver in 2010, and according to her coach, “has matured considerably as an athlete.” She came 25th and 28th in her two previous events, a slight improvement on Vancouver.
But managing a top-10 finish on Saturday represents a major move up, putting her among the world elite. “She did very well indeed, coming from a country like Spain, and with the limited resources we have at our disposal,” said Erola, adding that he had been congratulated by colleagues from around the world over the result.
Because of the funding cuts that have hit Spanish sport hard, Orgué was unable to begin training for Sochi until September.
Spain’s main hope for a medal at the Winter Games had rested on figure skater Javier Fernández, but were crushed at the end of the meeting’s first week when the 22-year-old, who now lives in Toronto, came fourth at the end of the free program in Sochi. He left the ice looking pleased with his performance, only to register very visible disappointment after judges awarded him 166.94 points, rounding off his total from the previous day’s short program to 253.42 points and seeing the Madrileño fall out of the medal positions.