A new skiing star is born

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Heidi Weng, age 21, was getting lots of attention in Norwegian media after some strong performances at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Italy this week. She was part of the relay team that won yet another gold medal for Norway on Thursday, and some think Weng will take over as Norway’s ski queen after Marit Bjørgen.

Heidi Weng, second from right, was the heroine of the women's relay after she skied fast and efficiently in the first lap and helped assure another gold medal for Norway at the world championships. From left on the winners' platform: Marit Bjørgen, Kristin Størmer Steira, Weng and Therese Johaug. PHOTO: FIS Nordic World Ski Championships/fiemme2013/Newspower Canon

Young Heidi Weng, second from right, was the heroine of the women’s relay after she skied fast and efficiently in the first lap and helped assure another gold medal for Norway at the world championships. From left on the winners’ platform: Marit Bjørgen, Kristin Størmer Steira, Weng and Therese Johaug. PHOTO: FIS Nordic World Ski Championships/fiemme2013/Newspower Canon

Bjørgen herself is among them. “Yes, I think she’ll take over,” Bjørgen, now age 32, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the women’s 4×5-kilometer relay where Norway won gold, Sweden silver and Russia bronze.

“She was nervous and fiddled with her porridge a lot at breakfast,” Bjørgen told newspaper Aftenposten later. “But Heidi skied a fantastic lap and I’m very proud of what she did.”

Weng had skied the first lap, surprising the Swedes (who reportedly had considered her the weakest link in the relay) by pulling out of the pack and increasing the speed. Her move was highly efficient, leaving coach Egil Kristiansen explaining that “Heidi likes to do special things. Her move wasn’t all that surprising.”

Therese Johaug took over on the second lap, handing off to Kristin Størmer Steira who then passed the baton to Bjørgen, who took home the victory. It resulted in Norway’s sixth gold medal of this year’s world championships, and 16th overall.

It was Weng, though, who was the center of attention. She’s from Ytre Enebakk, southeast of Oslo, and was only 11 years old when Bjørgen won her first world championship in Val di Fiemme 10 years ago. Bjørgen became Weng’s idol and she decided, in 2009, to sacrifice school in order to put all her energy into competitive skiing.

“Sometimes you have to make a choice and put something else aside,” Weng told reporters. “If the skiing went poorly, it was just to go back to the school bench again. But it’s now that I can focus on skiing, not when I’m 40.”

Weng, who also won an individual bronze medal in the women’s 15-kilometer race earlier in the week, claims she simply didn’t have time for school, and that her parents supported her decision to put aside earlier aspirations for a nursing career. Now it seems she’s well on her way to a brilliant skiing career.

The Norwegian women were already plotting strategy for Saturday’s final event in their portion of the world championships, the tough 30-kilometer classic. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland was keen on revenge.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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