Norway has once again been leading the pack at the Nordic World Ski Championships that began last week in Planica, Slovenia. Norwegian domination of cross-country skiing has become such an issue, however, that even some Norwegian fans were cheering when the Swedes won, and others seemed to favour the underdogs.
It was considered more newsworthy on the organizers’ own wrap of event coverage (external link), for example, that Norwegian skiing star Johannes Høsflot Klæbø “lost out on gold” (albeit to a teammate) instead of winning it. In that event, the men’s 30-kilometer “Skiathalon,” Norwegians took all three top spots, with Simen Hegstad Krüger winning the gold, Klæbø silver and Sjur Røthe winning bronze. Another Norwegian even placed fourth, Pål Golberg, just ahead of Swedish skier William Poromaa.
Klæbø had, meanwhile, started winning gold from opening day (in the men’s sprint) and followed up with more. He had three medals plus one in silver by Sunday and has his eyes on a total rush of 10 medals in the course of the World Championships, not least gold in the 50-kilometer race at the end of the competition.
Other Norwegians winning gold so far include Gyda Westvold Hansen in the women’s combined ski-jumping and skiing event and Jarl Magnus Riiber in the men’s combined. Ski jumping star Halvor Egner Granerud didn’t do well as expected and that made news as well.
Only the Swedish women seemed to be providing tough competition for their Norwegian counterparts, making it harder for Norway’s new generation of women skiers to establish themselves after the retirements of such stars as Marit Bjørgan and Therese Johaug. Anne Kjersti Kalvå and Tiril Udnes Weng could console themselves with silver after the Swedes swept the team sprint shortly after winning all three top spots in the individual sprint on opening day.
The lingering question is whether the Norwegian and now Swedish domination is fun any longer. Sports commentators have been worrying for years that Norwegians win too often, at the risk of other countries and their fans giving up. “What does the rest of the world think about the Norwegians’ ongoing winning streak?” mused Erlend Nesje, veteran sports journalist for Oslo newspaper Aftenposten, during the weekend. “Probably not much. And how long will Norwegians think this is fun? We’re reaching a limit now.”
That may be reflected in the empty seats in the grandstands at several of the events in Planica. When ski-jumper/skier Jarl Magnus Riiber sailed over the finish line first during an historic mixed relay with both men and women athletes participating, the reception was disappointing. “I’d actually had greater expectations for this championship and its public,” the gold-medal winner told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Riiber has earlier seen the grandstands packed at ski jumping events in Planica, but they’re not at the world championships.
Other factors can be involved, from the war going on in Ukraine to an economic downturn and inflation that’s reining in fun and travel for many. Nesje and others worry that the public has just lost interest. Norway and Russia have dominated for years, but with the Russians banned because of the war, Norway has taken over on the man’s side and is likely to continue to dominate. The country still has a strong economy, a top-ranked support staff for its athletes, high competence in how to develop talent and enthusiastic fans.
Then it’s only to “ask the rest of the skiing world,” according to Nesje, “‘can you please give the Norwegian men’s ski team some competition? We need it quickly. Thank you.'”