Norwegian cross-country skier Martin Johnsrud Sundby has chalked up so many points during this past ski season that he’s already been assured of winning the overall World Cup this weekend. He thus opted against traveling to Canada to take part in some final short-distance events and collect his prize, disappointing Canadian organizers and aggravating others who longed to compete in Quebec.
Some might accuse Sundby of being a bad sport by not showing up to collect his prize. His decision also came only after he was assured by the international ski federation FIS that he wouldn’t lost his financial winnings.
“I can’t understand why he won’t come, but it’s his decision,” director Pierre Mignerey of the Canadian World Cup competion told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We are clearly a bit disappointed.”
Sundby and Norwegian ski officials contended on Monday that the champion skier preferred “to be with his family, who have had a demanding time during a long and special ski season,” Gro Eide of Norway’s national skiing federation NSF (Norges Skiforbundet) stated in a press release earlier this week. Eide seemed to be referring to how Sundby made a remarkable comeback after it finally was revealed last summer that he secretly had been battling doping charges over how he misused asthma medicine. He ended up with a short off-season supension of a few months, and went on to win this year’s World Cup for the second year in a row.
On Tuesday, however, came word that Sundby has opted to take part in Norway’s annual 54-kilometer Birkebeiner race from Rena to Lillehammer this weekend instead, skiing for the team mounted by United Bakeries. That suggests his family will still have to wait to spend more time with him until the Birkebeiner race is over as well.
Eide’s statement confirmed, at any rate, how Sundby will be absent at the ceremony where he should have received the crystal trophy that’s proof of an overall victory in the World Cup. That’s what Mignerey has a hard time understanding. “It is so difficult to achieve that goal, it happens maybe only once or twice in a lifetime,” he said. “So I can’t understand choosing to avoid such a special moment.”
It’s possible, however, that Sundby remembered being stranded at the airport in Ottawa last year when he and several other skiers arrived for the Ski Tour Canada. Race organizers had apparently forgotten to pick them up and get them to their assigned hotels, and the aggravation after the long trip cut into Sundby’s race preparation time.
Mignerey and FIS could have withheld the NOK 266,000 Sundby has won for winning the overall World Cup plus the NOK 280,000 he might have won in the “minitour” events in Canada. On Monday, they told NRK that they’ll still pay out the money whether Sundby regardless. “We don’t want to force the athletes or teams to take part,” Mignerey said. After that came the confirmation that Sundby, who claims he’s not just skiing for the money, won’t travel to Quebec.
He’s not the only one to drop the World Cup final. One of his arch rivals, Sergej Ustjugov of Russia, won’t compete in Quebec, either, and some other Norwegians have also opted to race in the Birkebeiner this weekend instead. The team vacancy left by Sundby, however, wasn’t filled by former World Champion and World Cup winner Petter Northug, who badly wanted to compete in the World Cup final in Quebec but was excluded from Norway’s national men’s ski team. NRK reported that Sundby’s spot was instead given to Pål Goldberg, who’ll race in the three World Cup final events. They’ll begin with a sprint on Friday.