Underdogs USA, ROC in quest to down Norway in 4x5km relay

Rosie Brennan of Team USA competes at The National Cross-Country Skiing Centre

Rosie Brennan of Team USA competes at The National Cross-Country Skiing Centre

As the reigning Olympic champions in the women’s 4x5km relay, Norway is not going to repeat a gold medal performance without the United States and ROC putting up a fight. The Norwegian team took gold in PyeongChang with a stacked relay team of Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg, Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, Ragnhild Haga and Marit Bjorgen. Bjorgen is ranked number one in the all-time World Cup standings with 114 individual wins. She is also the most successful cross-country sprinter of all-time with 29 World Cup victories. 

A new Norwegian team of Tiril Udnes Weng (classic), Therese Johaug (classic), Helene Marie Fossesholm (free), and Ragnhild Haga (free) is entering the 4x5km relay event with no returning members from the 2018 squad. 

In the first half of the relay, skiers use the classical technique. The final two laps are raced using freestyle. The competition layout requires teams to strategically place their members so they’ll be able to compete in their preferred style with a higher chance of advancing their teams lead.

SEE MORE: Cross-Country Skiing 101: Competition format

United States cross-country superstars Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan will be joined by Hailey Swirbul and Novie McCabe to make up the U.S. relay team. The U.S. have never won an Olympic medal in the women’s 4x5km relay event. The team looks to clinch their first medal in this event after Diggins made U.S. Olympic history by winning the bronze medal in the women’s individual sprint.

Swirbul will start the race in classic and pass it off to Brennan who is faced with the most challenging classic leg of the race. She will go up against Norway’s Johaug and ROC’s Natalya Nepryayeva to try and advance the lead for the U.S. Following Brennan, McCabe will compete the first freestyle leg and then Diggins will close out the last leg, also in freestyle, against Norway’s Haga.

SEE MORE: Jessie Diggins makes U.S. Olympic history, wins bronze in individual sprint free

So far, Johaug has clinched two gold medals at the Games in the women’s skiathlon and 10km classic and will enter the 4x5km relay course hungry for more. At first, Johaug only entered in distance events. However, after her golden runs, the Norwegian coaching staff added her to the lineup. She is an athlete that makes up for comparatively slower times on course with aggressive starts and finishes and has a strong, dynamic skiing style that makes her a threat in any race.

SEE MORE: Norway’s Therese Johaug races for gold in women’s 10km

Without Bjorgen as anchor, Norway will have to defend gold from Yulia Stupak (classic), Natalya Nepryayeva (classic), Tatiana Sorina (free), and Veronika Stepanova (free) who make up the ROC women’s relay team. 

ROC took bronze in 2018 under the name of Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). Veteran Nepryayeva is the only returning member from the 2018 relay team. The last time Russian athletes won a gold medal in this event was at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics. 

The 2022 Winter Olympics is Nepryayeva’s second time competing at the highest level and she is currently ranked first place overall for the 2021-2022 season. Nepreyayeva will go head-to-head against Johaug in the second of the relay when they race in the classic technique. 

The women’s 4x5km relay gets underway on Feb. 12 at 2:30 a.m. ET. 

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