Clouds hang over Norwegian skiing

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As thousands of sports fans trooped up to Oslo’s Holmenkollen Ski Jump area for this weekend’s annual ski festival and World Cup events, clouds were hanging over Norwegian skiers despite all their medals and Friday’s bright blue skies. Their managers have been criticized while their teammate Therese Johaug faces another tough round of defending herself against doping charges, yet nearly all the bosses have survived and appear to retain the confidence of those who appointed them.

Oslo’s Holmenkollen Ski Jump will once again be at the center of this weekend’s ski festival and World Cup competition. Simmering under the surface is some discontent with Norwegian skiing’s leadership. PHOTO: Holmenkollen Skifestival/Magnus Nyløkken

Among them is Vidar Løfshus, chief of Norway’s cross-country (langrenn) skiing teams. “Vidar’s role hasn’t been a theme, we haven’t discussed it at all,” Torbjørn Skogstad, leader of the cross-country skiing committee, told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. “We are very satisfied with the results achieved under Vidar’s leadership, both at the World Championships (where Norway’s women won every single event last week) and in the World Cup.”

Others view Løfshus and his colleagues more critically, after two top Norwegian skiers (Johaug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby) were charged with doping directly tied to how they were instructed to use, in Johaug’s case, a lip cream and, in Sundby’s case, asthma medicine. Sundby got off with a short off-season suspension, while Johaug has been suspended for 13 months, missed out on this entire ski season and now must defend herself at before a Swiss court of arbitration after the international skiing federation (FIS) appealed her punishment. A majority of its board members believe Johaug should be punished even more severely for using a cream to treat lip sores that contained a steroid.

Løfshus and other sports bosses were criticized last fall for being arrogant and, in Løgshus’ case, not showing enough humility in dealing with the crises skiers were suddenly caught up in. Complaints reached a peak just before the recent World Championships, when Løfshus attacked several of the most high-profile critics and blamed the media in connection with Johaug’s positive doping test. He later apologized but not before other star skiers like Petter Northug, who’ll be competing in the men’s 50-kilometer race at Holmenkollen on Saturday, blasted Løfshus for making such remarks right before championship competition.

Federation paying Johaug’s legal bills
The national skiing federation (Norges Skiforbundet), meanwhile, has decided to continue paying Johaug’s legal fees as she battles the doping charges against her and tries to save her career. “The langrenn committee has agree to maintain financial support for Therese in connection with coverage of her attorneys’ fees in the FIS appeal,” Skogstad confirmed to newspaper Adresseavisen. The federation has already paid out around NOK 600,000 for Johaug’s lawyers’ bills, after earlier paying out NOK 3.3 million in the Sundby case, including reimbursement of his winnings.

Sundby still leads in the overall World Cup this season, just ahead of Sergej Ustugov of Russia and Matti Heikkinen of Finland. Only Ustugov placed in the first event of this week’s Holmenkollen-related festival, winning the bronze in the man’s sprint classic held in Drammen on Wednesday. Eirik Brandsdal of Norway won the sprint while Johannes Høsflot Klæbo was second. Norway’s Heidi Weng leads the women’s World Cup competition but none of the Norwegian women won a medal in Wednsday’s women’s sprint, with Stina Nilsson of Sweden winning gold, Krista Pärmäkoski of Finland silver and Hanna Falk of Sweden bronze.

Friday’s events at Holmenkollen featured qualifiers for the Nordic Combined event that pairs ski jumping and skiing, plus the opening ceremonies for the week-long RAW AIR ski jumping competition. More combined events were set for Saturday plus the men’s 50K race, while Sunday was devoted to the women’s 30-kilometer race  and more World Cup ski jumping.

State meteorologists were warning that real clouds were likely to replace Friday’s sunshine and blue skies during the weekend. Spectators were advised to be prepared for more snow, sleet and fog, especially on Sunday, as a new low-pressure system was due to move over southern Norway from Saturday.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund