Norwegian ski queen Therese Johaug ended her long and highly successful skiing career during the weekend, right back where her gold rush really took off, at Holmenkollen in Oslo. Her gold medal in the women’s 30-kilometer World Cup race was the best possible way to go off on top.
King Harald V wasn’t in the royal booth at the Holmenkollen arena this time, but his son Crown Prince Haakon was. An older and wiser Johaug refrained from throwing herself into his arms, like she impulsively did after winning her first gold medal in the World Championships in 2011. The king had jovially returned her hug, with Queen Sonja standing by and laughing. A new ski queen was born.
Johaug has experienced a lot since then, including a pile of medals from both World Championships, the World Cup and, most recently, her first individual gold at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. After winning her first bronze medal in Norway’s own national championships at the age of 18, she’s since claimed medals from the World Championships in Sapporo in 2007 to this past weekend’s final race.
Norwegians loved the blonde, highly energetic girl from Dalsbygda, a small community in northern Hedmark (now Innland) country, not far from Røros. And they kept supporting her even when she went through an agonizing period after testing postive for a steroid in a lip balm in 2016. She was banned from competing for 18 months and missed the Winter Olympics in 2018, only to mount a sensational comeback.
Now age 33, she announced last week that she’d be retiring from the professional racing circuit right after Holmenkollen. “I really don’t want this journey to ever end,” she wrote on social media, “but there’s a time for everything and I think the time has come that I should now do some other things than be a full-time cross-country skier.”
She’s already built up a bit of a fortune through sponsorships, winnings and a line of clothing among other things. She’s engaged to be married and told newspaper Aftenposten that “I want to be a mama in the future, and understand that life is more than skiing.”
She’ll miss the cheering fans, though, and she cried as crossed her final finish line after skiing 30 kilometers in just one hour, 19 minutes and 22.8 seconds. That was fully 19 seconds ahead of silver medal winner Krista Pärmäkoski of Finland and 32.3 seconds ahead of Jonna Sundling of Sweden who took bronze.
Holding two Norwegian flags she seemed suddenly uncertain: “Folks can make comebacks?”