By Annika Breidthardt
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Norway finally made peace with their cross-country skiers on Saturday when three of their women outclassed the rest of the field to drape the podium in Norwegian colors in the 30km freestyle race.
Marit Bjoergen won a record-equaling sixth Winter Olympics gold medal after she broke away with team mates Therese Johaug, who leads the overall World Cup, and Kristin Stoermer Steira, who claimed her first Olympic medal in an individual race.
"It's revenge from the relay and for all the waxing guys," Bjoergen told reporters after shaking off her team mates over the last two kilometers of the race.
Norway's cross-country skiers were in crisis earlier in the Games when neither men nor women lived up to expectations, failing to win a medal in the two relays.
With cross-country skiing arguably the most important sport in Norway, the women finished the relay in fifth after winning all the World Cup and world championship relays since the Vancouver Games, in which they also won gold.
The team, and much of the country, quickly blamed the waxers, saying they had failed to prepare the skis well for the warm snow conditions.
In a country of skiing aficionados, where a book on waxing can top national best-seller rankings, the failure to get the right balance between grip and slide topped media headlines and all the skiers had plenty to say about it too.
Possibly the memory of the early part of the Games drove the three women to ignore their coaches' advice and change skis - to benefit from fresh wax - after 20km.
"We talked about it during the race because the plan had been to change but we found that the skis were really good and we just pushed on," Johaug said.
"We had really good skis and the gap was 30 seconds, we thought that if we changed, then another group would (catch us up again)."
Bjoergen had been less sure about not changing skis than the other two but did not want to take a pit-stop alone.
"I was thinking about changing skis after 20km, and I thought that if I go inside they will go (past me), so it was difficult," she said.
"It was between our team mates and of course we know our strengths and weaknesses. If I could follow them I knew it would be possible in the end."
Norway has now won 11 cross-country medals in Sochi, tied with rival Sweden but leading 5-2 on "gold difference".
(Editing by Ed Osmond)