STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Few athletes will arrive in Pyeongchang bearing the same weight of expectation as Charlotte Kalla, with Sweden hoping that their two-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion can stem the flow of gold to neighbors Norway.
Kalla was the toast of Sweden at the 2014 Games in Sochi after a stunning last-leg performance in the women’s 4x5km relay obliterated a 25-second gap to the leader to win gold in a lung-busting sprint finish.
She also won gold in the 10 km freestyle competition in Vancouver in 2010 and is widely considered the Swede most likely to beat the Norwegians, who won all of the women’s gold medals at the 2017 World Championships in Finland.
Born in Tarendo in the far north of Sweden, Kalla started skiing at the age of seven and the town has already honoured the 30-year-old with a statue, which was unveiled a few months after her Vancouver victory.
She credits the mentality of the region as being a key component in her skiing success.
“When I have decided to do something, I always do my best. I’ve always been like that, I’ve had it with me throughout my upbringing, the mentality that exists there,” Kalla said in a recent interview with Elle magazine.
“It takes time to be successful, you have to be prepared to work hard and have patience. I was prepared to give that time.”
Kalla celebrated Christmas atop the 2017/18 FIS overall World Cup rankings ahead of four Norwegians - Ingvild Oestberg, Heidi Weng, Marit Bjoergen and Ragnhild Haga - and they will provide tough opposition for her in Pyeongchang at the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games.
With her technical skills improving year after year, Kalla comes into the 2018 Games at the peak of her powers, but more than anything else, it is her never-say-die attitude that is likely to put her on the podium in Pyeongchang.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor, additional reporting by Haidar Hajdari; Editing by Peter Rutherford