Cycling or cross-country skiing?

Young, ambitious Ullebø is the first Norwegian to compete in two elite sports

Photo: Geir Ivar L. Ramsli / Hoyanger Portalen  Ullebø excels in both skiing and cycling.

Photo: Geir Ivar L. Ramsli / Hoyanger Portalen
Ullebø excels in both skiing and cycling.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

With an outstanding youth career, 16-year-old Sedrik Engebø Ullebø is attracting all kinds of attention in the Norwegian sports community. But he’s not your average budding athlete—he’s the first to pursue two elite sports competitively.

Ullebø competes—and excels—in both cycling and cross-country skiing. He started participating in competitions for both sports at the age of nine, and his career has only continued to skyrocket from there.

“I want to be the best both on skis and bicycle. So we’ll see what the future brings. I want to be the best. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued this,” says Ullebø to NRK.

Photo: Team Statkraft Nordfjord / Fjordingen

Photo: Team Statkraft Nordfjord / Fjordingen

He is proud to say that 2014 has been his best year yet, and his record certainly backs him up.

In February, Ullebø competed in the national cross country championships against other young skiers. He started off with the silver in the 7.5 kilometer classic, and then switching gears, brought home the bronze in the freestyle sprint.

Just six months later, he secured the gold in the cycling youth championships, beating his competitors to the finish line by over 15 seconds.

“It’s a good feeling,” comments Ullebø on his victory. “Especially when I come over the finish line alone and have time to enjoy it.”

He also took the silver in the three-day cycling race Roserittet, showcasing an excellent performance against older and more-experienced cyclists.

Along with such promising athleticism comes a demanding lifestyle. Ullebø doesn’t live like the average Norwegian teenager; he is constantly traveling and training. He comes from Høyanger i Sogn, but attends Norges Toppidrettsgymnas (The Norwegian College of Elite Sport) where he trains for both cycling and cross country.

As a student at Norges Toppidrettsgymnas, Ullebø joins the ranks of legends Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Lasse Kjus, and Thor Hushovd, who also attended the school in their youth. But some would say that he’s one stride ahead of his predecessors as the first to attend for multiple sports.

“He is so good in both cycling and cross-country skiing that we have decided to offer him a split position. So he can choose either sport each quarter,” commented Thorleif Gunhildrud, the school’s elite sports manager. “We’ve had many at the school that excel in multiple sports, but most of the time they must make a decision. But Sedrik is so good that as a trial we’re letting him—as the very first—make that choice later.”

As fall began, Ullebø packed away his bike and picked up his skis, leaving his cycling buddies for his skiing peers. Of course switching between sports isn’t always simple.

“The other skiers had quite the advantage over me, who had only been cycling throughout the summer,” admits Ullebø. “But now I’m almost there. Give me a month, and then I’ll be passing them.”

While Ullebø may be enjoying himself now, he knows that he will have to choose between cycling and skiing eventually. But when will that be?

“In these two sports, it looks like the end of the teenage years is the time when one must choose which sport to focus on the most when it comes to competitions. But that doesn’t mean that the athlete will stop skiing or cycling as training on the side of the sport they are competing in,” says Åke Fiskerstrand, an Olympiatoppen adviser for young athletes.

In the meanwhile, many praise Ullebø for his dedication to both sports.

Cross-country star Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset commented, “It’s important to be versatile as long as possible. It results in fewer chances for serious injuries, and the variation makes one more motivated. In a year or two, he will have to choose what he will be. But I commend him for daring to compete in two sports for so long.”

Ullebø recognizes that he will have to make the decision in just a couple of years, but he’s not ready just yet. In the meantime, he’ll keep his supporters cheering all year round.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 21, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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