Several of Norway’s winter sports stars have finally been receiving their crystal World Cup trophies this past week, not on winners’ podiums but in the mail. Their season ended abruptly when the Corona crisis hit hard last month, as did a few others’ careers on their national team.
It was already a strange winter sports season, with little snow and then, because of Corona, competitions taking place in empty arenas without cheering fans. Disappointment was complete when sports fans even had to stay away from the traditional Holmenkollen Ski Festival and World Cup competition in Oslo, and a Biathlon World Cup event was cancelled after that.
The athletes mostly took it in stride, but downhill racer Aleksander Aamodt Kilde admitted that it felt “surreal” to get the news that he’d won the overall World Cup in alpine skiing while he sat home in Oslo. “I have to say it’s surrealistic, and at the same time sad that we didn’t get to battle all the way to the finish,” Kilde told news bureau NTB in mid-March.
It was just a day after the Norwegian government had joined other countries in relatively early shutdowns and told people to just stay home, to halt the spread of the Corona virus. The International Ski Federation (FIS) cancelled the final races of the season and winners were based on performance to date. That left the 27-year-old Kilde on top after he’d taken over the lead on home slopes at Kvitfjell the weekend before.
It was a triumph even in Norway where skiing champions are relatively common. Kilde’s claim to the overall trophy marked the first time a Norwegian had won it since Aksel Lund Svindal did the same in 2009. When Kilde’s trophy arrived in the mail last week, he could at least unwrap it on national TV.
Slalom skier Henrik Kristoffersen did the same over the weekend, when his World Cup trophies arrived via delivery service as well. There were two of them, one for the slalom and one for the grand slalom. Kristoffersen ended up third overall, 160 points behind Kilde and with Alexis Pinturault of France in between them.
Norwegian women didn’t excel in alpine skiing this season, but they dominated once again in cross-country skiing. Therese Johaug claimed the overall World Cup for the third time, also before the season ended ahead of schedule. The last sprints in Quebec were cancelled by Corona as well, leaving Johaug in first place and Norway’s Heidi Weng second. Natalja Neprjajeva of Russia was third, but Johaug was way ahead of them both with nearly twice as many points.
Then followed Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who later made more news when she announced her retirement from the professional skiing to pursue her medical career as a doctor. The 33-year-old Jacobsen, known as a smart and outspoken athlete, had been juggling hospital rotations, exams and skiing competition all season. After another strong World Cup season, the final foggy races at Holmenkollen that turned out to be the last of the season were a disappointment. She placed a lowly 16th and that’s not how she wanted to end the season, but she won lots of press and accolades from teammates and volunteered quickly for Corona duty at Oslo University Hospital. One career was over and another, long-postponed one was calling.
In biathlon skiing, Norway claimed yet another overall World Cup winner. Johannes Thingnes Bø, age 26, won at the sport’s final competition in Finland even though long-time rival Martin Fourcade of France won that final race. Fourcade also retired, leaving Bø to defend his record next season, when competition resumes. Norway’s women didn’t fare as well but Tiril Eckhoff placed second overall and Marte Olsbu Røiseland claimed seven medals at the Biathlon World Championships in February. She was fifth overall.
There was another major personnel change, meanwhile, among Norway’s winter sports stars’ lineup as the season ended. Martin Johnsrud Sundby was dropped last week from the men’s national cross-country team when it was cut back from 15 to 12 members. The 35-year-old still intends to keep training on his own and compete in next year’s World Championships in Oberstdorf, and claims he wasn’t particularly surprised that he was one of three to lose their spots on the team. He’s been paying more attention to his family, which has been expecting the addition of a third child this month, and he admitted to TV2 that he’d only taken part in seven of 70 gatherings of the national team this past season.
It’s nonetheless a “strange” feeling, he said, not to be a member of the Norwegian team on which he’s won two Olympic gold medals, four World Championship gold medals and Olympic silver. “It’s as if your wife of 30 years files for divorce and doesn’t want you any longer,” Sundby told state broadcaster NRK. He’s taking it in stride, however, and has always said he didn’t want to stand in the way of young skiers vying to get on the team.