The Long Distance Ski Championship

World Cup Windup: Norway

Author: 
FasterSkier

Marit Bjørgen carrying the Norwegian flag as she crosses the line first for Norway’s 100th World Championship win during the women’s 4 x 5 k relay at 2017 Nordic World Championships in Lahti, Finland. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

Welcome to World Cup Windup, where we check in with the top-10 teams from last year’s FIS Cross Country World Cup tour before the season starts with the Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland, on Nov. 24.

NORWAY

Overall in Nations Cup Last Year: First, by a landslide: 13,383 points to 7,053 by runner-up Sweden.

Women’s Ranking 2016/2017: First

Men’s Ranking 2016/2017: First

Norway’s Heidi Weng leading her teammates Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (middle r), Marit Bjørgen (middle l) and Sweden’s Stina Nilsson (far left) during the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle mass start in La Clusaz, France, last December. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus))

Who’s Back: Overall World Cup winners Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Heidi Weng; Sprint Cup winners Johannes Høsflot Klæbo and Maiken Caspersen Falla; World Cup race winners Finn Hagen Krogh, Emil Iversen, Sindre Bjørnestad Skar, Pål Golberg, Eirik Brandsdal, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, and Marit Bjørgen, And that’s just the skiers who won World Cups last season. There’s also other folks like, oh, Petter Northug and Astrid Jacobsen, who didn’t pick up individual wins last season but are probably pretty hungry.

Who’s Missing: Therese Johaug. The world champion and two-time World Cup overall champion is still sitting out a doping ban for using a lip cream containing a prohibited steroid.

Other than that, athletes usually don’t retire just before an Olympics, so pretty much everyone is back.

Pre-Season Results: None of the national team members have raced at the pre-World Cup competitions so far, but Chris Andre Jespersen picked up a win in Bruksvallarna, Sweden. Look for many more Norwegians to compete at their home opener in Beitostølen this coming weekend.

The second World Cup stop of the season is in Lillehammer, so the Beitostølen races will also likely determine who gets to compete as part of the “nations group” there, the host country’s extra bunch of quota spots.

Recent Drama: Oh, there’s always something, isn’t there? For Norway, it’s about the Olympics. With just four starting spots per race and so many top skiers, it will be a tough fight to get named to the Olympic team.

Norway’s Emil Iversen crashes in the finishing stretch while Finn Hågen Krogh (2) leads Finland’s Ristomatti Hakola (10), Martti Jylhae (4) Canada’s Alex Harvey (13), and Poland’s Maciej Starega (22) during the second men’s skate-sprint semifinal on Feb. 23 at FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

Emil Iversen, for instance, remembers how he fell twice at last year’s World Championships, including in the team sprint, where he ruined a good chance at a win given to him by teammate Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. He says he is feeling good, but he wants to redeem himself from Lahti and that’s no easy feat. “Everyone says they have never been stronger,” he told NRK. “Being in the squad should be within reach, but getting all the race starts I want will be incredibly hard.”

Another drama: who will ski the relay. Petter Northug anchored both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic relays for Norway, but the team’s head coach has already decided that in 2018 the honors should go to Finn Hagen Krogh, who did a stellar turn to secure relay gold at 2017 World Championships.

Marit Bjørgen was sick a few weeks ago, but is feeling better now. She says that she dreams of being in good enough shape to fight for six medals at the Olympics in February.

Astrid Jacobsen, meanwhile, has changed her training and is in some ways imitating alpine skiers, focusing more on balance. “It’s hard to believe that you can improve oxygen capacity or become more persistent by exercising even more,” the 30-year-old said. “I have a thorough fitness already. I think there’s more to gain by catching up with new things… If I get a little better in this area and get better on the skis, I can be a little more efficient. Better efficiency will produce much better results than better capacity would.”

Otherwise, a few skiers are not in the shape they’d like to be in at this point in the season.

Finn Hagen Krogh is congratulated by his teammates after anchoring Norway to gold in the men’s 4 x 10 k relay on March 3 at World Championships in Lahti, Finland, 4.6 seconds ahead of Russia in second place. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

Didrik Tønseth got a bad concussion after a rollerski crash in Livigno, Italy, in early September, and had to miss a considerable amount of training. (Reminder: always wear a helmet while rollerskiing!) He skipped a recent high-elevation training camp because he sometimes still has headaches; he is otherwise doing some hard training again. Tønseth was part of the gold-medal relay team from 2017 World Championships but is worried about qualifying for the Olympics. “It’s a season where you have to do well before Christmas,” he told NRK, according to a translation. “It already counts from Kuusamo… so there is no favorable situation. I’m not completely satisfied.”

Best Social Media Presence: The Norwegian ski stars generally don’t use Twitter much, but a few have great Instagram presences.

Unsurprisingly, the Norwegian who is best at conveying his brand on social media might be Petter Northug. When the IOC made the decision to disqualify several Russian athletes from the 2014 Olympics for doping – including the silver-medal men’s relay team – this was the response from Northug, who had anchored the Norwegian relay team which had finished fourth, failed to medal, and otherwise caused great soul-searching in the country: