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Cross-country skiing: What to know for women's 15 km skiathlon

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By: Getty Images By: Getty Images
By: Tom Dougherty

Cross-country skiing opens Saturday, with the women's 15km skiathlon as the first chance of Winter Olympics history to be made. That, and plenty more about the event.

What it is
The 15km women’s skiathlon forces skiers to master both cross-country skiing techniques. It’s a back-to-back, with the first 7.5km using the classical technique, and the back end going freestyle. It’s a tiring and brutal event for the skiers.

How to watch
The competition begins at 2:15 a.m. EST and you can watch it live right here.

History in the making
Norwegian Marit Bjorgen is already the most decorated women's skier in the sport, and with one more gold medal, she will become the most accomplished female Winter Olympian ever.

Entering the PyeongChang Games, Bjorgen’s 10 Olympic medals are tied as the most ever by a female Olympian with Russian cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina and Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo.

In each of the past two Winter Games, Bjorgen has won three gold medals. PyeongChang offers her a chance to make it three straight Olympics with three golds.

If she does earn three gold medals in PyeongChang, she'll move into a tie with fellow Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who, at 44, didn't make Norway's biathlon team this year, as the most decorated Winter Olympian ever. Four golds would make her the most decorated.

The 15km skiathlon was one of the three events she captured gold in the 2014 Sochi Games.

Sochi in review
Spoiler alert: Bjorgen won the gold medal in Sochi.

Bjoergen captured her first of three golds, finishing the skiathlon in 38 minutes, 33.6 seconds, 1.8 seconds faster than the silver medal winner, Charlotte Kalla (Sweden).

Heidi Weng, of Norway, won the bronze medal, closing 13.2 seconds behind Bjorgen. In fact, four of the top-five finishers in the event were Norwegian. Norway won 11 medals in cross-country skiing, including five gold, in cross-country skiing at Sochi to tie its record.

Team USA
Jessie Diggins was the highest-finishing American in the skiathlon at Sochi, finishing in eighth place at 40 minutes, 5.5 seconds. This is her second Olympics. She joins Sadie Bjornsen and Sophie Caldwell as the U.S. looks to finally capture its first women's Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.

This year, the U.S. looks ready to compete with Norway and other European countries. Diggins, Bjornsen and Caldwell enter the Games in the top 10 of the FIS point rankings.

Bjornsen’s younger brother, Erik, is also an Olympic cross-country skier.

"Every Olympics we kind of get reminded, 'Hey, the women have never had an Olympic medal," Diggins said, "Like, 'yeah we're going to get it, it's about time.'

"Going in this year, I think we have some serious potential.”

Who to watch
Bjorgen, of course, is the name to watch, as are Diggins, Bjornsen and Caldwell. Throw in  Kikkan Randall, the veteran of the U.S. team at 35 years old and in her fifth Olympics.

Kalla, the Swede, and Weng are also biathletes to watch in the event.

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