Marit Bjoergen has left a legacy that will be hard to top.
In her final Olympic race, the most decorated athlete in the history of the Winter Games obliterated the field, winning the 30-kilometer mass start cross-country ski race by 1 minute, 49 seconds over silver medalist Krista Parmakoski of Finland.
The 37-year-old Norwegian was never challenged Sunday en route to her eighth career gold medal and 15th overall since she began competing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
“When I look behind me and see what I have done, it’s incredible,” said Bjoergen, who broke down in tears at one point after the race. “It has been an amazing career for me, this is my last Olympics and to finish like this is incredible.”
Bjoergen won five medals at the Pyeongchang Games, more than any other athlete.
She never left a doubt about the outcome of Sunday’s race.
Bjoergen took the lead about 2 kilometers in and continued to stretch it. With 7 kilometers remaining she was so far ahead of the rest of the field that second-place skier Teresa Stadlober couldn’t see her, and took a wrong turn on the course, heading right instead of left. By the time the Austrian corrected her course, she had fallen to eighth place and out of medal contention.
Stadlober said she later made another navigational error.
“I don’t know what happened to me, I took the wrong way,” Stadlober said with an embarrassed laugh. “And I did it twice. I don’t know why I took the wrong way. I’m sad that it happened today because I had a really good day.”
Stadlober finished ninth.
Stina Nilsson of Sweden said she didn’t know where Stadlober had gone and said she was shocked to learn when she crossed the finish line that she had won the bronze medal.
“I didn’t know what had happened to Stadlober, so I figured I was fighting for fourth place,” Nilsson said. “It is a huge difference between a fourth place and a bronze medal at the Olympics so it means a lot to me.”
Bjoergen had no such problem, despite skiing alone most of the race. She picked up the Norwegian flag on the home stretch and waved it as she slowly cruised to the finish line.
Bjoergen reiterated there is no chance she will participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, but plans to finish out the World Cup season and make a decision on how long to continue racing once that is complete.
“It’s hard to know now. I only have the focus on this year,” Bjoergen said. “But of course it’s been incredible for me to have five Olympics and 15 medals like that, it’s hard to understand actually. I think I need some moments by myself and see what I’ve done and look behind me.”
She felt like she had a good chance to win the 30-kilometer mass start after dominating the event over the last seven years. Since 2012, she had won eight of the last 12 major races in the event in the World Cup, world championships and the 2014 Sochi Games.
Bjoergen’s win was also big for the Norwegian team, which finished with 14 medals in cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang, breaking the record of 13 held by the Soviet Union in 1988.
“The future is good for Norway,” she said. “They’ve always got younger athletes who are coming up and I think that’s the reason why we are so good, that we always have some new people who are coming up and they have some idols to see.”
Charlotte Kalla of Sweden failed in her bid to match Bjoergen for a fifth medal at the Pyeongchang Games, finishing fifth. American Jessie Diggins, who won gold in the team sprint last week along with Kikkan Randall, fell early in the race and finished seventh.