CALGARY, Canada — Tamara Tikhonova led a Soviet medal sweep in the grueling 20-kilometer race at Canmore Thursday, and teammate Raisa Smetanina became the most successful female athlete in Winter Olympics history.
Smetanina, who finished third, has now won three golds, five silvers and one bronze medal in an Olympic career that began in 1976 at Innsbruck, Austria. Her ninth medal put her ahead of Galina Kulakov of the Soviet Union, who also was a cross-country skier.
"She was my idol," said Smetanina, who is four days shy of her 36th birthday. "I wanted to have one more medal than Kulakova. These are my last Olympics."
Thursday's sweep by the Soviet women was the first for any country in Nordic events here. Tikhonova, 23, won in 55:53.6, giving her three medals but her first gold. She was 19.2 seconds ahead of Anfissa Reztsova.
"From the beginning, everything went just fine," Tikhonova said. "I had no problems. The skis were very good, and it was almost easy. I never had any problems."
Dorcas Denhartog of Lebanon, N.H., was the top American, in 24th. Nancy Fiddler of Crowley Lake, Calif., was 43rd in 1:03:57.5.
Marja Liisa Kirvesniemi of Finland, a triple gold medalist four years ago, was 12th in what probably will be her last Olympic race. Her only medal at Calgary was a bronze on the women's relay.
The Soviet team won three of the four women's races and have golds in two of three men's races, with Saturday's 50-kilometer the only event remaining.
In seven races, the Soviets have won five gold, five silver and three bronze medals, nearly triple their medal total in the 1984 Games at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, when they took one gold, two silver and two bronze.
Tikhonova set a punishing pace from the start of the 20K, clocking the best intermediate times at the 5K, 10K and 15K intermediate points.
Later, she said the race was almost easy.