Corona spurs skiers to suspend races

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A decision by champion cross-country skier Johannes Høsflot Klæbo to drop upcoming World Cup races in Davos and Dresden sends “a dramatic signal,” claims commentator and former top skier Fredrik Aukland. Then Klæbo was joined by skier Emil Iversen in the effort to minimize Corona risk, forcing top skiing officials to re-evaluate the risks involved for all top athletes who are expected to keep flying internationally for the sake of the sport.

Skier Johannes Høsflot Klæbo won gold at the last Winter Olympics and has set his sights on the next World Championships. The risk of being infected by the Corona Virus has thus prompted him to drop two upcoming weekends of World Cup competition. PHOTO: Norges Idrettsforbund

“It shows how seriously he’s taking the situation,” Aukland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Aukland noted that Klæbo is also giving up lots of potential World Cup points, since he’s highly favoured to win the races he’ll miss.

Klæbo, however, was deeply shaken by some incidents at the season opener of the World Cup in Finland over the weekend, including news that an athlete was found to have tested positive to the Corona virus after he’d been allowed to move freely around the stadium area.

“The way things are now, you just don’t want to take any chances,” Klæbo told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. “I have set a goal for myself this year and that’s to ski fast at the World Championships (in Oberstdorf later this winter). Then I don’t want to take any bigger risks than I have to.”

Those risks, for him, clearly include taking part in the World Cup through December, when much of Europe is still caught in a second wave of Corona virus infection. He won’t race again until, at the earliest, the Tour de Ski is due to start on January 1.

Emil Iversen has also withdrawn from the Tour de Ski, which may end up being cancelled. Some skiing rivals claimed Monday that competing without the Norwegians would be “like football without Zlatan.”

Too much uncertainty
Klæbo said he’s not actually scared by the Corona virus, but worried that no one knows what effects it can have on those infected over the long term. “But we do know it’s a virus that affects your lungs,” Klæbo said. “That’s why I don’t want to risk catching it when my clear goal is the World Championships.”

Both Kæbo and Iversen got off to a good start at the World Cup season opener in Finland over the weekend, placing first and third in a “mini-tour.” Klæbo announced his decision to temporarily withdraw after traveling home to Trondheim. He still expects to race in Lillehammer this weekend but is not keen on traveling to Switzerland and Germany right after that. The uncertainty tied to traveling internationally and being in contact with lots of people is just too great.

He was the second top Norwegian skier to suspend World Cup competition. Heidi Weng traveled home from Finland early after performing poorly because she felt she couldn’t concentrate on her skiing. The fear of catching Corona was too high. Klæbo stated in a press release that his own uncertainty has steadily grown since the end of last year’s World Cup: “I feel that skiing and competition aren’t so important compared to the pandemic that’s sweeping over the whole world. Everyone has to do what they feel is right. This (dropping two World Cup events) is important and right for me.”

Decision ‘must be respected’
Aukland, NRK’s expert commentator, called it “a dramatic signal to the international cross-country skiing elite that the biggest star chooses to refrain from competition before Christmas.” Aukland indicated that he thinks Norway’s ski federation (Norges Skiforbund) also needs to pay attention to the signal.

Espen Bjervig, in charge of cross country skiing at the federation, said an evaluation of the World Cup season opener in Finland was underway and that the federation respected Klæbo’s decision. “Johannes has make his own risk evaluation and puts priority on the World Championships,” Bjervig told NRK. “It’s a tough priority that must be respected and shows how goal-oriented he is.

“In an uncertain world we all have to do this (evaluate risks) continually.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund