Having arrived in China as the most successful country in Winter Olympics history, Norway was quickly into the groove on day one of Beijing 2022 as the Nordic country got off to a golden start on Saturday.
Norway claimed two gold medals on Saturday to take its all-time gold tally to 134 – that’s 29 more than the United States, which sits in second on 105.
Therese Johaug won the first gold of Beijing 2022 with a dominant victory in the 15-kilometer cross-country skiing race in the women’s skiathlon, the Norwegian cruising to her first individual Olympic title in 44 minutes and 13.7 seconds.
The 33 year old is competing in her third Games, but missed PyeongChang 2018 due to a positive drug test in 2016.
“I’ve been training a lot for this for many, many years,” Johaug told reporters, “It’s been a special week for us, we just came here two days ago.
“At first I was really happy just to come here because we have the Covid in our team. I’ve trained thousands of hours for this and been away from home a lot over the years. So it’s beautiful to reach this goal.
“It means a lot. I’ve never had an Olympic gold medal, it’s my first one. I’m so happy.”
Johaug finished just over 30 seconds ahead of the ROC’s Natalia Nepryaeva, who won silver in a time of 44:43.9.
Austria’s Teresa Stadlober completed the podium, securing bronze with a 44:44.2 finish.
Norway’s second triumph swiftly followed in the biathlon mixed relay 4x6km – an event that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting – following a dramatic threeway shootout for gold amidst challenging high winds.
The Norwegian quartet of Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, Tiril Eckhoff, Tarjei Boe, and Johannes Thingnes finished in one hour, six minutes and 45.6 seconds, beating the French team to gold by just 0.9 seconds.
Boe had had to train for the race separately from his teammates after being identified as a Covid-19 close contact.
“To prepare for the relay, it was normal even if it was difficult for Johannes to be in his hotel room,” said Boe.
“I think he also loaded his batteries quite well. We saw today that maybe it was for the better that he was in quarantine so that he could relax and save his energy for the sprint.”
A mere 1.5 seconds behind Norway was the ROC, though it might have been gold rather than bronze had the team fallen away in the last stretch.
“It was an amazing relay,” said Eckhoff. “It was so much up and down, and I had a really tough leg, but I had amazing teammates who made it possible.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I think this was one of the relays with the most excitement ever, so it was very fun for us.”
Boe admitted that they “never had control” of the race.
“It went so up and down,” Boe said. “You build up one hour of racing, then it’s 150m left and it’s three teams. That’s why sport is so fantastic.”
A flurry of penalty loops – wherein skiers must complete a 150m penalty lap should they fail to hit five targets – only heightened the drama.
Norway and France both suffered three penalty loops, with the ROC taking one, but Boe insisted that his team “were not scared” of having to recover from them.
“We had three penalty loops and in a normal world cup, you never do that,” Boe said.
“If you have three penalty loops, you’re outside of competition. This is what we expected before racing today so we knew that most likely the winners would have a penalty loop so we were not scared to have it here.”
China claimed its first gold medal of Beijing 2022 after winning the short track speed skating mixed relay on the event’s debut at the Winterr Games.
The Chinese team narrowly beat out second-place Italy by 0.016 seconds to claim China’s first ever short track mixed relay gold with a time of 2:37.348, while Hungary took bronze with a time of 2:40.900.
In doing so China has already matched the country’s gold medal tally from PyeongChang in 2018.
“I’ve been waiting for this gold medal for 12 years,” Fan Kexin told reporters. “I’ve waited for it for so long. I will always believe in the team. From the day I entered the national team, I have always believed in my teammates.
“I have been in the Chinese team for 12 years. All my teammates have accompanied and supported me, all the coaches have supported me.
“Every day when we finish training, we have blood in our throats. And the moment we won, I thought it was all worth it. We’ve made it.”
The host’s photo finish victory was met by a “huge roar” by the crowd, according to CNN’s reporters at the Capital Indoor Stadium, though China came close to not making the final at all.
Having finishing third in the second semifinal race, it took a judge’s review to see China through, with Team USA and ROC adjudged to have blocked the Chinese skaters from properly switching in the relay.
The two teams were subsequently penalized and lost their spots, sending China through to the gold medal race.
After the event, a US-style kiss cam roamed the several hundred spectators in the crowd, with fans waving and dancing when appearing on screen.
Dutch strike gold
In the women’s 3000m speed skating event, Irene Schouten of the Netherlands pipped Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida to gold in a thrilling race as the Dutch woman won in a new Olympic record time of 3:56.93.
Isabelle Weidemann took bronze to round out the podium, securing Canada’s 200th Winter Olympics medal.
“There was a lot of pressure for myself and for the Netherlands and I’m so happy I made it,” said Schouten.”I was in the last pair and you see all the girls race in front of you, and they raced really fast.
“Four years ago I did not qualify, so I wanted this one. When I was young I had a big dream to win Olympic gold and now I have it.”
Eighth time’s the charm
The women’s 3000m speed skating saw another record set by Germany’s Claudia Pechstein, the 49-year-old appearing at a record eighth Games.
Pechstein is the oldest competitor – male or female – in Beijing this month, and now shares the record for most Winter Olympic appearances with legendary Japanese skier Noriaki Kasai.
The five-time gold medalist – who was a flagbearer for Team Germany at Friday’s Opening Ceremony – finished last, but celebrated with a double fist pump and smile.
“I was not too fast, but I smiled because today I got my goal to race in my eighth Olympic Games. This was important for me,” said Pechstein.
“The result of today was not so important, it was just to race and to be here. I am super proud.”
The opening day’s two other golds were won by Sweden’s Walter Wallberg in the men’s moguls freestyle skiing event, and Slovenia’s Ursa Bogataj in the individual women’s normal hill ski jumping.
Mixed Relay 4x6km (W+M): Norway
Women’s 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon: Therese Johaug, Norway
Men’s Moguls: Walter Wallberg, Sweden
Short Track Speed Skating
Mixed Team Relay: China
Women’s Normal Hill Individual: Ursa Bogataj, Slovenia
Women’s 3000m: Irene Schouten, Netherlands
CNN’s Angus Watson, John Sinnott, Wayne Sterling and Bex Wright contributed to this report