Norway ended an historic performance at the Nordic World Ski Championships over the weekend with yet another gold medal, this time won by the men’s long-distance skier Hans Christer Holund. It brought Norway’s final gold medal count up to a record 13, and a total record medal count of 25.
“It was a dream ending,” said the chief of Norway’s national ski teams, Vidar Løfshus. “It’s been just fantastic.”
So was the sheer diversity of the medal haul, with the four individual gold medals won by the Norwegian men taken by four different skiers. Many Norwegian women won medals, too, not just Therese Johaug.
Coaches and commentators were attributing the Norwegians’ performance to years of building up a strong team culture based on fellowship and common goals. The skiers and ski jumpers train all year long, cheer for and promote one another and are encouraged to be as happy for teammates’ accomplishments as for their own.
Hans Christer Holund won the cross-county skiing championship’s tough 50-kilometer grand finale, a day after Norway’s new comeback queen Therese Johaug did the same in the women’s long-distance 30-kilometer race. Holund skied the 50-kilometer course in Seefeld, Austria in one hour 49 minutes and 59.3 seconds, nearly 28 seconds ahead of Alexander Bolshunov of Russia and nearly a minute ahead of Norway’s Sjur Røthe, who grabbed the bronze medal ahead of Norwegian teammate Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
“What shall I say,” Holund, who’s one of Norway’s lesser-known top skiers, told reporters after the race. “I have learned that you have to dare to try, you have to dare to think that you can be a world champion.” He described his skiing career as “a rollercoaster,” from being “a good junior, to a poor senior to a good senior.” Holund, who’s from Oslo, just turned 30 last week, not so very “senior” unless you’re an athlete.
Johaug, meanwhile, also skied her way to a new World Championship on Saturday, winning the 30K race juat ahead of her own teammate Ingvild Flugstad Østberg. That put two Norwegians on the winners’ platform once again, and Johaug turned her comeback from a doping suspension into her best World Championships ever.
At age 30, Johaug can also be categorized as a “senior” in the skiing world, but she sped over the 30-kilometer course in just an hour, 14 minutes and 26.2 seconds, 36.8 seconds ahead of Østberg. Sweden’s so-called “new Johaug,” 19-year-old comet Frida Karlsson, won the bronze medal, 44 seconds behind Johaug.
Johaug admitted to some tears of despair along with joy during her first championship since she was banned from two full seasons for having used a lip cream given to her by a team doctor that contained a steroid. It meant that she tested postive for doping, even though she emphatically claimed time and again that she was innocent of any illegal aim to enhance performance.
This year’s World Championships were thus very important for Johaug, but also emotional. “You become really happy over what you’ve managed to do,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the 30K, “but you’re also so exhausted and emotional. That can cause some crying, too.”
Her gold and Østberg’s silver medals, meanwhile, brought Norway’s medal count as of Saturday afternoon up to 21, breaking the country’s total medal record of 20 set at the World Championships in Oslo in 2011 and in Falun in 2015. There were more to come, after Norway’s combined ski-jumping teams won bronze later in the day, following Jarl Magnus Riiber’s final spurt to gold in the men’s combined relay earlier in the day. Riiber had also won individual gold in the events that combine ski racing and ski jumping on Friday.
That, along with Maren Lundby’s individual gold in ski jumping, sent Norway soaring in both skiing and ski jumping. And then came Holund and Røthe on Sunday.
“The work was really done before we came here (to Seefeld, Austria),” Eirik Myhr Nossum, head coach for the men, told NRK. “The work is done during the summer, in the fall and then through the winter, and they we could take the cake here.” They did indeed, with Norway’s haul of 25 medals, more than half of them gold, comparing to a total of nine for its its next closest rival Germany and five for Sweden. Germany, which ranked second in the medal count, claimed six gold medals, while third-ranked Sweden won two gold medals, two silvers and one bronze.
Norway’s dominance in cross-country skiing is not good for the sport internationally, with many worrying that it discourages rivals from even trying. It’s been an issue for several years, also when Norway has dominated the medal hauls at previous World Championships and Olympics.
Norwegian sports fans love it, though, especially in a country where skiing remains a national sport and tens of thousands flock into the forests and hills every winter weekend and ski on lighted trails in the evening after work.
As if to rub in Norway’s skiing supremacy, a Norwegian also won Sweden’s famed long-distance race, Vasaloppet, on Sunday. Tore Bjørseth Berdal from Trøndelag crossed the finish line first after skiing 90 kilometers from Sälen to Mora, making Sunday’s race the seventh in a row to be won by a Norwegian.