Winter sports stars stay on top

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With the exception of cross-country skiing star Petter Northug, many of Norway’s winter sports heroes retained their crowns over the weekend when World Cup competition started up again. Norwegians won both key competitions for men and women at the Nordic events in Kuusamo, Finland, while downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal set another record after the men’s Super-G at Lake Louise in Canada.

Norway's undisputed ski queen Marit Bjørgen (center) clinched her first World Cup victory of the season at the opening competition in Finland over the weekend. At left, silver medal winner Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and at right, Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug. PHOTO: Ruka Nordic Opening 2013/Patrick Forsblom

Norway’s undisputed ski queen Marit Bjørgen (center) clinched her first World Cup victory of the season at the opening competition in Finland over the weekend. At left, silver medal winner Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and at right, Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug. PHOTO: Ruka Nordic Opening 2013/Patrick Forsblom

Even Northug, the multiple medalist from earlier years who performed poorly at Norway’s own season opener the weekend before, ended up in 13th place overall after the World Cup events in Finland. That was better than either Northug, who claims to have been battling a virus during the winter warm-up training period, or others expected. Instead of heading for more high-altitude training in the alps of Europe, he’ll now take part in next weekend’s World Cup competition in Lillehammer.

Northug, who controversially dropped off the national men’s skiing team to train on his own, finished less than 40 seconds behind Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who impressed many with some thrilling victories in Finland. Marit Bjørgen, last winter’s undisputed ski queen, retained her top spot on the winners’ platform, beating out Charlotte Kalla of Sweden and Norwegian teammate Therese Johaug. Now she’s aiming to compete in the upcoming Tour de Ski, which she had to give up last year because of heart trouble.

Svindal becomes most-winning Norwegian
The men’s combined team, who compete in both ski jumping and cross country ski races, also ended up on top at Kuusamo, but few could match alpine ace Aksel Lund Svindal’s performance across the Atlantic at his sport’s World Cup competition in western Canada. He moved ahead of Norway’s legendary Kjetil André Aamodt in claiming the most World Cup victories in downhill skiing, and also became the gold medal favourite at the upcoming Olympics in Sotchi.

As newspaper Aftenposten reported, Svindal didn’t just win the Super-G and claim his first World Cup victory of the season. He also became the most-winning Norwegian alpine skier of all time.

Svindal himself, known as a likeable and down-to-earth guy from Kjeller outside Oslo, said he’s uncertain just how much better he is than Aamodt and Lasse Kjus, another Norwegian skiing legend from the 1990s. Kjus now holds third place with 18 major victories, after Svindal’s 22 and Aamodt’s 21.

“It’s impossible to answer, but I’d bet there are things they were better at that I am,” Svindal told Aftenposten. “We have different strengths. I can’t identify myself with either of them, I just hope I have some of both their qualities.” The men’s World Cup downhill competition moves on to Beaver Creek, Colorado next weekend, with Super-G, downhill and grand slalom races.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund