- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

KRASNAYA GOLYANA, Russia (AP) - Marit Bjoergen hopes to end the Sochi Olympics the same way she started them - with a gold medal.

While Bjoergen can’t match her five-medal haul from Vancouver in Sochi, she can equal the three golds she won four years ago with a victory in the women’s 30-kilometer freestyle race on Saturday.

The Norwegian cross-country skier has had an up-and-down Olympics, starting with a victory in the 15K skiathlon before going three races without a medal, then ending that streak by taking gold again in the team sprint.

She took silver in the 30K race in Vancouver after losing a sprint to Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, and is again among the favorites this time.

Kowalczyk won the 10K classical-style race in Sochi despite skiing with a foot fracture, but has struggled in freestyle races all season. And it seems the Norwegian team thinks the biggest threat comes from Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, who has one gold and two silvers so far in Sochi - including giving Sweden an improbable comeback win in the relay.

Norway’s ski team tweeted a picture of the four women who will ski in the race - Bjoergen, Therese Johaug, Heidi Weng and Kristin Stoermer Steira - with a message in English: “Come out, come out, Kalla! Come out and play!”

It wasn’t a case of trash talking, rather a friendly invitation. The Norwegian and Swedish women are close friends off the track, and Norway’s skiers were cheering Kalla on when she won a three-way sprint against Germany and Finland in the women’s relay, having erased a 25-second deficit on the final leg.

Still, it was clear that they look forward to settling the matter of who should be considered the top women’s skier - Kalla or Bjoergen.

Four years ago, it was indisputably Bjoergen. And if she gets her sixth career gold on Saturday, she’ll keep the title.

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