VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (AP) — Marit Bjoergen anchored Norway to its second straight 4x5-kilometer cross-country relay world title Thursday.
Bjoergen, Kristin Stoermer Steira, Therese Johaug and Heidi Weng won in 1 hour, 36.5 seconds, beating the Swedish team of Ida Ingemarsdotter, Emma Wiken, Anna Haag and Charlotte Kalla by 26.2 seconds.
Bjoergen, who has now won 11 world titles in her career, even had time to grab a Norway flag from the crowd as she skied down the final straight. Olympic champion Norway was the favorite going into the race. The quartet had already picked up six individual medals and took the top four places in Saturday's skiathlon.
"We weren't sure of making it, it wasn't easy out there," Bjoergen said. "All four of us had to work very hard and focus, and our skis had to be perfect. We knew we had to fight the whole time." A fast final leg from Yulia Tchekaleva — who won bronze in Tuesday's individual 10K — enabled Russia to finish third, 45.8 seconds behind Norway. It was also the fastest leg of the race.
Team sprint winner Jessica Diggins also raced a quick final leg for the United States to finish fourth. Finland had tussled with Sweden for second for most of the race, but crossed the line in fifth. Poland had led at the halfway stage after a fast second leg from Justyna Kowalczyk, which saw her make up nearly 40 seconds to overtake Johaug.
However, the Poles ended the race in ninth. Bjoergen won her third gold medal in Val di Fiemme. The three-time Olympic champion, who also won silver in the 10K, is only three victories away from matching Yelena Valbe's record of 14 world championship wins.
It is the 32-year-old Bjoergen's 18th championship medal, beating Bjoern Daehlie's record of 17. "I don't focus on how many medals I have," Bjoergen said. "I'm living in the now. When I stop skiing, then I can think of how many medals I have."
Norway leads the medal table with 15, including six gold. Russia is second with four, one more than the United States.