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Marit Bjoergen: The greatest Winter Olympian you've never heard of

Fourth-Place Medal

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What if there were an Olympic athlete who won more medals in Vancouver than Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White and Evan Lysacek combined? An athlete who was so dominant in her sport that she became only the ninth person in history to ever win five medals at a Games? A woman whose Olympics were so good that the media dubbed her "The Queen of Vancouver." Surely you would have heard of such an athlete, right?

Chances are that the name Marit Bjoergen doesn't ring a bell even though the Norwegian cross country skier accomplished everything mentioned above. The 29-year old won three golds, a silver and a bronze in Vancouver, the biggest haul for any athlete at the Games. She received little to no attention for her exploits during NBC's primetime Olympic broadcasts.

Though the network could certainly have highlighted Bjoergen's epic achievement sometime during its final two broadcasts, it's hard to blame the network for not hyping her to American audiences. Cross country skiing has two very big things going against it in the United States: Few people understand the sport and Americans are not strong in the events. Combined, that's a kiss of death in terms of television exposure.

But cross country skiing isn't the leisurely stroll in the snow most people assume it is. The competitors are among the most fit athletes at an Olympics, as the event takes a rare mix of strength and stamina. A great cross country skier has to have the endurance of a marathoner and the strength of a sprinter.

And despite the long races, the action is often close at the end. Bjoergen missed out on a fourth gold medal in Saturday's 30km classical event when she was beaten at the finish line by the length of one ski.

Bjoergen medaled in each of the five women's cross country races she competed in (there were six overall). Those ranged from the ultra-long distance (30km) to a shorter relay spring (5km individually). In doing so, she proved that she was the greatest female athlete in Vancouver, whether most of America realized it or not.

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