Championships off to a golden start

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Norway’s national anthem was played after both opening races at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Seefeld, Austria on Thursday. Norwegian skiers won both gold medals in both the men’s and women’s sprints, with another Norwegian picking up a bronze medal as well.

Two Norwegian women and a Swede were on the winners’ platform Thursday, claiming the first medals of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on Thursday. Maiken Caspersen Falla (center) won gold, Stina Nilsson of Sweden (left) won silver and Mari Eide won bronze. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Some sports commentators have predicted that Norway will win 11 gold medals, and 19 in total at the championships that run through next weekend. That would put Norwegians on the podium every day as they continue to dominate in cross-country skiing, with the Norwegian women also doing well in ski jumping.

Thursday’s two sprint finals put both Maiken Caspersen Falla from Gjerdrum and Mari Eide from Øystre Slidre on the podium, with Falla winning gold and defending her earlier position as world sprint champion. There were tears of joy and sorrow for Eide, who was the surprise winner of the bronze after a difficult autumn when her sister and fellow skier Ida died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 30, while taking part in a foot race in Jessheim, northeast of Oslo.

“I really wish Ida was here with me today,” Mari Eide told state broadcaster NRK after the race. “I know she’s up there and very proud as she gazes down on me. The whole family is here, and I can share this with them after the tough autumn we’ve been through.”

Sweden’s Stina Nilsson won the silver and had been favoured over Falla, while newspaper Aftenposten predicted newcomer Kristine Stavås Skistad, age 19 from Konnerud, would win bronze. Skistad has had lots of publicity in Norway and was hoping for a medal, with her tears flowing in disappointment over ending sixth in the semi-final.

Then came the men, with Norway’s Johannes Høsflot Klæbo winning his first World Championship gold medal. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Then came the men, with 22-year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo of Byåsen in Trondheim winning his first World Championship after also winning gold at last year’s Olympics. He was best of them all, flying over the finish line ahead of Federico Pellegrino og Italy and Gleb Retivykh of Russia.

Klæbo had earlier landed in a skirmish with another Russian skier, Sergej Ustjugov, who hadn’t liked how Klæbo managed to cut in front of him in the semi-final. Ustjugov approached Klæbo after the race and struck out at him, setting off a war of words between the two before Ustjugov put his glove up to Klæbo’s face and pushed him again. Most of the encounter was captured on video and shown on NRK Thursday afternoon (external link to NRK’s coverge).

“I though it was a bit amazing that he comes up to me, all fired up after the race,” Klæbo, who did not hit back, told NRK. “He ended it all by saying ‘good luck’ (in the final).”

Ustjugov tried to laugh it all off afterwards. “Everyone saw what happened, he was strongest and won the title,” he told NRK. “I didn’t hit him, I just gave him a pat on the cheek and said ‘good luck’ in the final.” He admitted he was angry because Klæbo “was faster and won, but I’m glad on his behalf.”

The Norwegians were optimistic heading into the World Championships, but two gold medals on opening day exceeded expectations. They came on the king’s birthday and even before Norwegian skiing star Therese Johaug hits the trails herself. She’s heavily favoured and tipped to win four gold medals in competition this weekend and through next week. She missed last year’s Olympics and was banned from competition for more than a year after having used a cream to relieve lip sores that contained a steroid. Berglund