Leg #1 of the race kicked off with the classic mass start as Canada’s Dasha Gaiazova skied strong near the front of a pack that included Norway, Finland, and Russia. The USA’s Bjornsen was also positioned in the top 10. During the second lap, Norway’s Heidi Weng chose the inside track vs the slicker centre lanes to take the lead.
Chasing Finnish skier, Anne Kyllönen crashed and got caught up in the fencing to lose 15s. Weng attacked on the climb gained her a massive 20s gap, which second place, France’s Aurore Jean, and third place, Russia’s Julia Ivanova, fought to earn back. Meanwhile, American Bjornsen had moved into sixth spot, while Gaiazova appeared to run out of steam and fell back through the pack. At the end of the first leg, Weng tagged off to her teammate Therese Johaug with a healthy 20s lead, followed by Finland and Russia in second and third, USA sixth, and Canada 11th.
Leg #2 saw Norway way ahead, while the scrap for silver and bronze continued with Russia moving into second spot and Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk jumping up to third, while USA’s Kikkan Randall maintained her sixth place spot. Farther into the leg, the Polish ringer threw down a gutsy attack to assume second place and gain time on Norway’s Johaug.
Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen also put in a big dig to bring her crew back into contention, moving up to third. Meanwhile, Kowalczyk heroically caught and passed Norway’s Johaug, leaving Sweden and Finland behind to fight over the bronze medal position. Still in sixth, Randall tagged off to teammate Stephen, with Canada’s Perianne Jones coming through in 12th to tag Emily Nishikawa.
The start of Leg #3 saw Norway’s Kristin Stoermer Stiera quickly pass Poland’s Paulina Maciuszek for the lead, while the battle for bronze heated up, with Finland’s Riitta Liisa Roponen fighting Sweden’s Anna Haag tooth and nail in a back-and-forth nailbiter. Their efforts allowed them to overtake the flagging Polish skier, as they trailed Norway by a massive 35s.
Farther back, USA’s Stephen looked strong and smooth as she cruised up the field to take over fourth place. Back in the medal fight, Haag delivered a big attack the final time up the Zorzi climb to put a gap into Roponen, while Stephen continued to gain time with Russia’s Mariya Guschina in tow.
At the end of the leg, Stiera tagged off to Marit Bjoergen maintaining a 25s lead over Sweden, with Finland crossing in third at 30s. Stephen delivered a 4th place hand-off to US anchor Diggins at 55s in arrears with Russia fifth at 1:03. Nishikawa handed off to Brittany Webster at 3:27 behind.
With such a large advantage going into the final leg, Bjoergen proved unstoppable on her uncontested charge to win the gold medal by 26s over Poland. Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla quickly dropped Finland’s Riikka Sarasoja-Lilja for second spot, while Diggins battled fiercely with Russia’s Yulia Tchekaleva.
The bronze medal was far from sewn up as Sarasoja was obviously struggling. Tchekaleva overtook Diggins and then caught Sarasoja to assume third, while Diggins continued to advance. In the end, the Russian skier was too quick for Diggins, but the young American hunted down the fading Finn to claim fourth for Team USA at 1:12 – the team’s best ever result in that event. It was a tough day for the Canadians as their anchor Webster did not finish.