ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA (AP) – Therese Johaug won the first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics yesterday, finishing first in the women’s 15-kilometre cross-country skiathlon.
The Norwegian fought wind and frigid temperatures to ski away from a chase group of four, winning in 44 minutes, 13.7 seconds.
Russian athlete Natalia Nepryaeva, the current overall World Cup leader, pulled away from the group on the last climb to take silver, 30.2 seconds behind Johaug. Teresa Stadlober of Austria followed just behind for the bronze medal.
The skiathlon is a mass-start race that began with 7.5 kilometres of classic skiing. After two laps around the 3.75-kilometre course, racers came through the stadium and quickly switched to skate skis before heading out for another two laps.
Johaug has won 10 world championship titles but had never before won an individual Olympic gold medal.
Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a skier from China’s Uyghur community who helped light the Olympic cauldron at Friday’s opening ceremony, finished in 43rd place – 5:57 behind Johaug.
Nepryaeva is competing in her second Olympics. She won bronze in a relay race at the Pyeongchang Games. Stadlober is competing in her third Winter Games and won her first medal. Kerttu Niskanen of Finland finished fourth and Frida Karlsson of Sweden was fifth, just ahead of Jessie Diggins of the United States in sixth.
Heidi Weng of Norway was missing from the race. She tested positive for COVID-19 and spent time in isolation. It was unclear whether she would attend the Winter Games.