Norway’s powerful men’s and women’s cross-country skiers aren’t unbeatable after all. Two losses of the top spots in World Cup action on Sunday actually prompted some unusual cheers from Norwegians themselves, and a sense of relief.
Norway’s dominance on the World Cup skiing circuit, not least so far this season, has raised concerns that the Norwegians are simply too good for their own good. Their long string of victories in recent years doesn’t exactly motivate rival national teams, and even Norwegian fans themselves have come to expect victory to such a degree that they may lose interest as well. Television broadcasters are also worried that ratings can decline when the Norwegians win race after race. It can be fun in Norway to always see Norwegians crossing the finish lines first, but not necessarily in other countries.
On Saturday, the Norwegians’ winning streak continued, with both Therese Johaug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby winning big in the latest round of World Cup competition in Davos. Johaug, who has won multiple Olympic gold medals, World Championships and World Cup events, was said to never have skied better. The 27-year-old clinched the women’s 15-kilometer race with free technique, with another Norwegian, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, placing second. Sundby, meanwhile, scored another decisive victory in the men’s 30-kilometer race.
On Sunday, though, there was a major, some say, refreshing change. Stina Nilsson of Sweden won the women’s sprint ahead of both Maiken Caspersen Falla and Østberg. And in the men’s sprint, Italian skier Frederico Pellegrino suddenly grabbed first place with Baptiste Gros of France second. A Norwegian, Sondre Turvoll Fossli, was third.
“Now the Norwegians got some competition, and that’s very good,” legendary Norwegian champion Bjørn Dæhlie told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “There’s supposed to be some excitement in cross-country skiing, so I’m very glad that Sweden won the women’s sprint, and that Pellegrino showed he can beat us. I think that’s very good for us Norwegians.”
Still in the overall lead
Strange remarks, perhaps, from a die-hard competitor who won record numbers of gold medals himself, and who won many races at Davos. “Norway can’t be criticized for skiing fast, because the skiers are doing what they can and shall do,” Dæhlie added. “But I think it’s important that we got other nations (on the winners’ podium) and motivate them.”
Even Falla, who lost to Nilsson, was cheering her rival. “I’m really glad for her victory,” Falla told new bureau NTB. “I’ve gotten to known Stina (Nilsson) and she’s a super gal. I came very close, and then it’s easier to be glad on her behalf.”
The Norwegians continue to lead all the World Cup statistics so far this season, however. Sundby, Petter Northug and Niklas Dyrhaug hold all three top spots for the men, with Johaug, Østberg leading the women, and Nilsson now in third place.