Therese Johaug won the first gold in Beijing 2022 with a dominant victory in the 15-kilometer women’s cross-country skiathlon, where the Norwegian crossed his first individual Olympic title in 44 minutes and 13.7 seconds.
The 33-year-old is participating in his third game, 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 came right here two days ago.
“At first I was really happy to just come here because we have Covid in our team. I have trained thousands of hours for this and been very far from home over the years. So it is beautiful to achieve this goal.
“It means a lot. I’ve never won an Olympic gold medal, it’s my first. I’m so happy.”
Austria’s Teresa Stadlober completed the podium and secured bronze with a finish of 44: 44.2.
The Norwegian quartet Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, Tiril Eckhoff, Tarjei Boe and Johannes Thingnes finished in one hour, six minutes and 45.6 seconds and beat the French team to gold with only 0.9 seconds.
Boe 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 though it was hard for Johannes to be in his hotel room,” Boe said.
“I also think he got his batteries charged pretty well. We saw today that it might be for the better that he was in quarantine so he could relax and save energy for the sprint.”
Just 1.5 seconds behind Norway was ROC, though it might have been gold rather than bronze if the team had dropped out in the final piece.
“It was a great relay,” Eckhoff said. “It was so much up and down and I had a really hard leg but I had amazing teammates who made it possible.
“I do not know about you, but I think this was one of the most exciting relays ever, so it was a lot of fun for us.”
Boe admitted they “never had control” of the race.
“It then went up and down,” Boe said. “You build up an hour’s race, then there’s 150m left and that’s three teams. That’s why sport is so great.”
A barrage of penalty loops – where skiers must complete a 150m penalty kick round if they fail to hit five goals – only increased the drama.
Norway and France both got three penalty loops, with the ROC taking one, but Boe insisted his team “was not afraid” of having to get over them.
“We had three penalty kicks, and in a normal world championship you never do that,” Boe said.
“If you have three penalty loops, you’re out of the competition. That was what we expected before the race today, so we knew the winners would most likely have a penalty loop, so we were not afraid to have this.”
China claimed its first gold medal in Beijing 2022 after winning the short track speed skating mixed relay at the event’s debut at the Winterr Games.
The Chinese team beat Italy second by 0.016 seconds to claim China’s first short track mix relay gold ever with a time of 2: 37.348, while Hungary took bronze with a time of 2: 40.900.
That way, China has already matched the country’s gold medal from PyeongChang in 2018.
“I’ve been waiting for this gold medal for 12 years,” Fan Kexin told reporters. “I’ve been waiting for it for so long. I always want to believe in the team. From the day I joined the national team, I’ve always believed in my teammates.
“I have been in the Chinese team for 12 years. All my teammates have followed me 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 greeted by a “big roar” from the audience, according to CNN’s reporters at Capital Indoor Stadium, even though China was close to not making it to the finals at all.
After finishing third in the second semifinal race, it required a referee review to see China through, where Team USA and ROC were judged to have blocked the Chinese skaters from switching correctly in the relay.
The two teams were subsequently penalized and lost their places, sending China on to the gold medal race.
After the event, an American-style kissing camera roamed among hundreds of spectators in the crowd, with fans waving and dancing as they appeared on screen.
Dutch beat gold
In the women’s 3000 m sprint, Irene Schouten from the Netherlands got Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida for gold in an exciting race, as the Dutch woman won in a new Olympic record time of 3: 56.93.
Isabelle Weidemann took bronze to round the podium and secured Canada’s 200th Winter Olympics medal.
“There was a lot of pressure for myself and for Holland, and I’m so glad I made it,” Schouten said. “I was in the last couple and you see all the girls driving in front of you and they were driving really fast.
“Four years ago, I did not qualify, so I wanted this one. When I was young, I had a big dream of winning Olympic gold, and now I have it.”
Eighth time is the charm
The women’s 3000 m speed skating was set another record by the German Claudia Pechstein, the 49-year-old who appeared at a record eighth game.
Pechstein is the oldest competitor – male or female – in Beijing this month and now shares the record for most Winter Olympics appearances with legendary Japanese skier Noriaki Kasai.
The five-time gold winner – who was the flag bearer for Team Germany at Friday’s opening ceremony – finished last, but celebrated it with a double fist and a smile.
“I was not too fast, but I smiled because today I had my goal of running in my eighth Olympic Games. This was important to me,” said Pechstein.
“The result of today was not so important, it was just driving and being here. I’m super proud.”
The opening day’s two other golds were won by Swedish Walter Wallberg in the men’s moguls freestyle skiing, and Slovenia’s Ursa Bogataj in the individual women’s normal downhill ski jump.
Mixed relay 4x6km (W + M): Norway
Women’s 7.5 km + 7.5 km Skiathlon: Therese Johaug, Norway
Men’s moguls: Walter Wallberg, Sweden
Short track skating
Mixed team relay: China
Women’s normal hill individual: Ursa Bogataj, Slovenia
Women’s 3000 m: Irene Schouten, The Netherlands
CNN’s Angus Watson, John Sinnott, Wayne Sterling and Bex Wright contributed to this report