Oslo (AFP) – Norwegian cross-country skiing superstar Marit Bjorgen, who won an eighth gold medal at last month’s Winter Olympics, announced her impending retirement on Friday.
“I don’t feel I have the motivation required to give 100 percent for another season, that’s why I’m quitting,” the 38-year-old told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.
Bjorgen became the most successful athlete in winter Olympic history on February 21 when she took bronze, behind a stunning win for USA, in the women’s team sprint freestyle in Pyeongchang.
Dubbed “Golden Marit” for winning 15 Olympic medals, including eight gold, she surpassed her “Cannibal” compatriot Ole Einar Bjorndalen who retired earlier this week at the age of 44.
Bjorgen is also the second most successful woman at either the Summer or Winter Games, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18 medals.
US swimmer Michael Phelps holds by far the absolute Olympic record, with 28 medals including 23 gold.
“I thought this would be easier to announce. I’m touched. It has been part of my life for over 20 years,” an emotional Bjorgen, a mother of one, told NRK.
“So it’s special to say that this is my last season as a top athlete,” she added on the sidelines of the Norwegian cross-country skiing championships where she swept her 25th national title on Friday by winning the classic five kilometre race.
Bjorgen will ski her last race, a 30-kilometre (18 miles) freestyle, on Saturday.
“It’s impressive what she has achieved, she’s a legend in a Norwegian context,” said Bjorndalen, who holds no less than 13 Olympic medals (eight gold, four silver and one bronze).
– ‘Role model’-
Bjorgen was showered with tributes from fellow athletes, and politicians, after the news broke on Friday.
“She was terribly important to me, she was my idol,” said Therese Johaug, a seven-time world champion and former Olympic gold medallist who was suspended after failing a drug test.
“You have been a source of inspiration and a role model, you made us jump with joy and scream with excitement,” former Norwegian Prime Minister and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on his Twitter account.
Bjorgen claimed her first World Cup victory in Dusseldorf in October 2002 and her first Olympic medal (silver) in Salt Lake City the same year.
She gave birth to her first and only son, Marius, in 2015.