Who to watch for in this year’s winter sports

The Russians aren’t coming, and neither is Therese Johaug …

Michael Kleiner
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Another winter sports season is underway and Norway looks to continue their domination of the last few years or at least be a major player in just about every snow sport.

They had 10 World Cup champions last year. Norway once again won the medal count at the Beijing Winter Olympics with 37, including a record 16 golds.

There are questions about the season and some new procedures.

1. Who is the next Therese Johaug? She capped her marvelous career or three-year stretch following an 18-month suspension with three gold medals at last year’s Olympics, then the 34-year-old shocked the cross-country skiing world by announcing her retirement after the Norwegian championships. As dominant as she was, Johaug did not win the World Cup in 2021 (ninth) and 2022 (fifth). She won in 2020, 2016 (when Norway won the top three spots), and 2014 (Norway had the top four). Her career began with a 44th finish in 2007, ascended to 18th in 2008, eighth in 2009, 17th in 2010, fourth in 2011, third in 2012, second in 2013 (Norway had four of the top six) and 2015 (Norway had the top six), and third in 2019. She won 25 World Championships.

Marit Bjørgen preceded Johaug. Among the Norwegian women, Heidi Weng finished fourth last year and took the mantle when Johaug was on suspension in 2017 and 2018. Internationally, look toward Swedes Frida Karlsson and Emma Andersson and American Jessie Diggins.

2. “The Russians aren’t coming!” And the Belarussians, too. Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russians and Bellarussians are banned from competing. This will be felt most in men’s cross-country skiing where the Russians had eight in the top 25 last year. Alexander Bolshunov was a big rival for Johannes Høsflot Klæbo.

3. There are a number of rule changes in cross country. Fis-ski.com reports that in team sprint:

Instead of semifinal heats, qualification rounds will take place to find out the fastest teams for the finals. Every athlete has to ski one lap.

All athletes from leg 1 start with a 15-second interval. After all athletes of leg 1 have finished, athletes from leg 2 will follow in the same time frame.

The times of both athletes will be cumulated and the best 15 teams will qualify for the finals.

In the final heats, all athletes have to ski three laps and the exchange has to be made with contact.

In the heats, there will be no elimination system.

4. Points will be awarded to the top 50 competitors in an individual event.

5. Men and women skiers will receive an increase of 10% in prize money.

6. Countries can enter two teams for the Mixed Nations Relays with the starting order alternating between men and women. Countries can include a maximum of two skiers from another nation if it does not have enough members to field its own team.

Enjoy the season!

CROSS COUNTRY

The men

Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB
Johannes Høsflot Klæbo

The Norwegians and Russians owned the snow last winter. Of the top 25 in the World Cup standings, 11 were Norwegian and eight were Russian. France had two, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Czech Republic had one each. Klæbo, 26, got his trophy back from Russian Bolshunov–who won in 2021– winning by 497 points. Klæbo is rare in that he excels in sprint (#2) and distance (#3). Bolshunov was second in distance, 15th in sprint, while third-place Iivo Niskanen (Finland) was first in distance, 73rd in sprint.

So, what does it mean with the Russians banned from competing? In the opener at Ruka, Finland, Nov. 25-27, Klæbo led a sweep of the top four spots in the sprint final with Even Northug, Pål Golberg, and Erik Valnes; a sweep of the 10km Individual Start Classic with Golberg and Martin Løwstrøm Nyenget, and won the 20km pursuit with Golberg second. Federico Pellegrino (Italy) broke through to the podium with a bronze in the 20km pursuit.

In the World Cup standings last year, Norway had six-nine (Didrik TønsethNyenget, Harald Østberg Amundsen, and Golberg).

Other competition are France’s Richard Jouve (#4 overall, #1 Sprint) and Lucas Chanavat (#10, #3 Sprint), Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson (4th in 10km Individual Start at Ruka) and Great Britain’s Andrew Musgrave (5th in 10km IS, 6th in 20km Pursuit at Ruka), and Pellegrino (#12, #4 Sprint).

The women

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB
Heidi Weng

The women will be more competitive. Norway was not one dimensional with Johaug. Heidi Weng, 31, was sixth last year, (fifth in distance), second in 2020, (second in distance), first in 2017 and 2018, (first in distance), when Johaug was suspended, and third in 2015 and 2016. Look out for the Swedes, Finns and Americans.

Of the top 29 last year, Norway had 8, Sweden 6, Finland 4, United States 3, Russia 2, Germany 2, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria and France 1.

American Diggins, 31, won in 2021 (#1 Distance, #4 Sprint) and was second last year (#9 Distance, #4 Sprint). The champion, though, was Russian Natalia Nepryaeva. In her absence, does Diggins move up? Or Sweden’s Ebba Andersson, 25, (#3, #4 D), who was first in the 10km Individual Start Classic, and second in the 20km Pursuit at Ruka? Or will it be her teammate Frida Karlsson, 23, (#12, #2 Distance), who beat Johaug, and was first in the 20km and second in the 10km at Ruka?

Norway has Heidi’s sisters, Tiril Udnes Weng (#16, #3 Sprint Final and 20km Pursuit Free at Ruka) and Lotte Udnes Weng (#28), Maiken Caspersen Falla (#22, #7 Sprint), Mathilde Myhrvold (#23, #9 Sprint); and Ana Kjersti Kalvå (4th in 10km at Ruka). The Swedes also boast Jonna Sundling (#9, #3 Sprint) and Maja Dahlqvist (#10, #1 Sprint), the Finns Krista Pärmäkoski (#4, #3 Distance) and Kerttu Niskanen (#7, #6 Distance) and Slovenia Anamarja Lampic (#8, #2 Sprint).

BIATHLON

The men

Photo: Geir Olsen / NTB
Sturla Holm Lægreid

Norway’s men’s and women’s biathlon teams accounted for 14 of the countries’ medals at the Winter Olympics last year, with the women collecting six, men seven, and mixed team one. Six medals were gold.

In the World Cup, the men won seven medals, including winning the Nations Cup for the most points, outdistancing France. Five Norwegians were in the top 15 of the standings.

For the second straight year, Sturla Holm Lægrid (#3 in Sprint, #2 in Individual, #4 in Mass Start); took silver behind France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet (#1 in Sprint and Pursuit, #2 in Mass Start).

Tarjei Bø was 1-2 with Lægrid in the Individual, with brother Johannes Thingnes Bø, who won three straight World Cups from 2017-21, fourth. Sivert Guttorm Bakken was 1 and 3 with teammate Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen in the Mass Start, with Lægrid fourth.

Overall, Christiansen (#5 in Sprint and Pursuit, #3 in Mass Start) was fourth; Tarjei Bø, (#1 in Individual) sixth; Bakken (#1 in Mass Start) ninth. Johannes Thingnes Bø was 13th.

Norway had the best relay team ahead of France, Germany, Russia, and Sweden.

The French also boast fifth-place Emilien Jacquelin (#4 in Sprint and Pursuit, #5 in Mass Start); seventh-place Simon Desthieux (#3 in Individual, #6 in Pursuit) and 14th-place Fabien Claude (#5 in Individual). Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson (#2 in Sprint and Pursuit) took the bronze last year. Germany has eighth-place Benedikt Doll (#7 in Sprint and Mass Start); 10th-place Erik Lesser (#3 in Pursuit), and 11th-place Johannes Kuehn (#6 in Sprint).

The women

Photo: Geir Olsen / NTB
Marte Olsbu Røiseland

Norway had three of the top 15 shooters last season with Marte Olsbu Røiseland winning her first World Cup (#1 Sprint and Pursuit, #4 Mass Start), Tiril Eckhoff (#7 Sprint), who was the World Cup champion in 2020-21 was 11th and Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (#7 Individual, #5 Mass Start) was 15th.

Røiseland, who has 72 career medals among the Olympics, World Championships and World Cups (24 gold-29 silver-19 bronze), skipped at least the opening event of the season at Kontiolahti, Finland, Nov. 29 – Dec. 4, explaining in a press release: “For now, my body isn’t ready for tough competitions.” Eckhoff, who has 88 career medals (18-51-19) also missed the opener because of after-effects from contracting COVID-19.

Norway won the Nations Cup over Sweden, France, Germany, and Czech Republic.

Lisa Theresa Hauser (Austria) was third (#2 Individual). Sweden has sisters, second-place Elvira Öberg (#2 in Sprint, Pursuit, and Mass Start) and fourth-place Hanna (#3 Sprint and Pursuit). France boasts its sisters, fifth-place Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet (#5 Sprint, #4 Pursuit) and eighth-place Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (#6 Indiviual, #1 Mass Start), 12th-place Julia Simon (#7 Pursuit) and 14th-place Anaïs Bescond (#8 Sprint, #6 Pursuit). Germany offers sixth-place Denise Herrmann-Wick (#6 Sprint) and 13th-place Vanessa Voigt (#6 Mass Start). Tenth-place Marketa Davidova (Czech Republic) is best in Individual.

NORDIC COMBINED

The men

Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB
Jarl Magnus Riiber

Jarl Magnus Riiber, won his fourth straight World Cup though he missed the Olympics with COVID. And he’s only 25. Riiber was first in jumping and has seven career Kings Cups for winning Holmenkollen and Norwegian championships.

Johannes Lamparter (Austria) (#3J, #5T) took silver, Vinzenz Geiger (Germany) bronze (#3T).

Norway is deep with fourth-place Jørgen Graabak (#2T), 31, and sixth-place Jens Lurås Oftebro, 22, who has already collected two bronzes and a gold–with Riiber second–this season. Espen Andersen and Espen Bjørnstad gave Norway five in the top 20. Other notables are Ilkka Herola (Finland) (#1T), Kristjan Ilvis (Estonia) (#2J), Mario Seidl (Austria) (#4J), Ryota Yamamoto (#5J) and Akiito Watabe (Japan) (#6T), Germany’s Johannes Rydzek (4T) and Julian Schmid, who won the first event of the year at Ruka, Finland Nov. 25.

The women

Photo: Geir Olsen / NTB
Gyda Westvold Hansen

Therese Johaug’s bloodlines are still present as cousin Gyda Westvold Hansen is already dominating in the third year of women’s Nordic Combined. The 20-yearold won the World Cup last year, finishing first in jumping, third in time, and won the first two competitions this season at Lillehammer, Dec. 2-3. Ida Marie Hagen (#4J, #2T), 22, won silver in last year’s World Cup and on Dec. 3 at Lillehammer. Ema Volavsek (Slovenia) (#3J), 20, took bronze, while Anju Nakamura (Japan) recorded the best time. Annika Sieff (Italy), 19, and Lisa Hirner (Austria), 19, and Nathalie Armbruster (Germany), 16, are names to watch. Norway sisters Marte Leinan Lund (#5T), 21, and Mari Leinan Lund, 23, (#6J) were sixth and 10th, respectively.

ALPINE

The men

Photo: Lise Åserud / NTB
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde

The Norwegian men’s alpiners had a legend of their own, Kjetil Jansrud, retire. Norway has two living legends in Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, 30, and Henrik Kristoffersen, 28. Kilde is the defending Super-G and Downhill champion and finished second overall. Kristoffersen was third overall, #1 SL, #2 GS, #4 parallel. Up and coming are Lucas Braathen (#4 SL and GS), Atle Lie McGrath (#3 SL and parallel) and Rasmus Windingstad.

The favorite is defending champion Marco Odermatt (Switzerland, #1SL, #2 GS). Austria held the fourth (Olympic Super-G champ Matthias Mayer), fifth (Vincent Kriechmayr) and seventh (Manuel Feller) spots; Beat Feuz (Switzerland) sixth (#2 DH), and Dominik Paris (Italy) eighth (#3 DH).

The women

Photo: Jeff McIntosh / NTB
Ragnhild Mowinckel

Ragnhild Mowinckel managed a fourth place in 2021-2022 (#4 SG, #6 DH, #7 GS), and picked up a bronze in Super-G at Lake Louise, Canada, Dec. 4. The season belonged to American Mikaela Shiffrin, who captured the World Cup (#2 SL; #3 GS and SG) and has two golds so far. Slovakia’s Petra Vlkova (#1 SL, #4 GS) captured silver after topping the table in 2020-2021. Federica Brignone (Italy) was third (#1 SG, #6 GS). After 30 career slalom podiums and 49 overall, Wendy Holdener (Switzerland) finally won gold at Killington, Vt., Nov. 27. Soffia Goggia (Italy), (#6 overall, #1 DH) won twice at Lake Louise. Others to watch are: Michelle Gisin (Switzerland, #5), Sara Hector (Sweden, #7), Tessa Worley (France, #8, #1 GS), Corinne Suter (Switzerland, #9, #2 DH), Marta Bassino (Italy, #10) and Lara Gut-Behrami (Switzerland, #11). Other Norwegians: Thea Louise Stjernesund, Mina Fürst Holtmann, and Maria Therese Tviberg.

SKI JUMPING

The men

Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB
Halvor Egner Granerud

Halvor Egner Granerud won the World Cup in his first full year in 2020-2021, but he fell to fourth last year behind Ryoyu Kobayashi (Japan), Karl Geiger (Germany) and teammate Marius Lindvik. Granerud set a strange record when he tied for first with Stefan Kraft (Austria) at Ruka, Finland on Nov. 27, the second tie in Granerud’s career. A tie has only happened three times in history. Norway returns veterans Robert JohanssonDaniel-Andre Tande, and Johann Andre Forfang. Norway tends to do well in team events. Top jumpers back include Markus Eisenbichler (Germany), Anza Lanisek, Timi Zajc and Cene Prevec (Slovenia), Dawid Kubacki, Kamil Stoch, and Piotr Zyla (Poland), Jan Hörl and Daniel Huber (Austria).

The women

Photo: Geir Olsen / NTB
Silje Opseth

Maren Lundby, 28, who won the World Cup from 2018-2020, took a year off and has shown some rust so far. Silje Opseth, 23, took the torch (#6 last year) and has won twice so far, at Wisla, Poland, Nov. 5, beating defending champion Marita Kramer (Austria), 21, and at Lillehammer, Dec. 4., where Anna Odine Strøm (#17), 24, took silver. In last year’s top 22, Austria and Slovenia had 6 each, Japan 4, and Norway 3. Slovenia boasts Nika Kriznar (#2, 20121 champ), 22, Ursa Bogataj (#3) and Ema Klinec (#7); Japan, two-time champion Sara Takanashi (#5); Austria, Lisa Eder (#9), Jacqueline Seifriedsberger, (#10), and Eva Pinkelnig (#15); Germany, Katharina Althaus (#4). Thea Minyan Bjørseth, 19, checked in at #16.

SPEED SKATING

The men

Photo: Jan Kåre Ness / NTB
Peder Kongshaug

Last year, Håvard Holmefjord Lorentzen finished fourth in the 1,000m behind Dutch trio of Thomas Krol, Kjeld Nuis, and Hein Otterspeer. In the 5,000m at Heerenveen, Netherlands, Nov. 19, newcomer Sander Eitrem was second, veteran Hallgeir Engebråten third behind Patrick Roest (Netherlands). Peder Kongshaug finished sixth in the 1,500m last year behind Joey Mantia (United States), Connor Howe (Canada) and Nuis. Kongshaug was fourth in the event at Heerenveen and is ranked fourth in the standings. The team pursuit was second behind the United States and ahead of Canada last year. 

The women

Photo: Jan Kåre Ness / NTB
Ragne Wiklund

Ever since Ragne Wiklund, then 20 years old, won the world championship in the 1,500m in 2021, she has been Norway’s phenom. Last year, she was second in the long distances, 10 points behind Dutch legend Irene Schouten and ahead of Francesca Lollobrigida (Italy), and fourth in 1,500m, behind Miho Takagi (Japan), American legend Brittany Bowe and Ayano Sato (Japan). At Stavanger, Nov. 11, she won the 3,000m, beating Schouten and Canadian Isabelle Weidemann, and the following day, she was second in the 1,500m behind Takagi and ahead of Marijke Groenewoud (Netherlands). Wiklund took third in the 3,000m at Heerenveen, Netherlands, Nov. 18 and was second in the 3,000m standings, six points behind Schouten. 

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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