Therese Johaug transitions to a new career

Norway’s superstar skier takes up the microphone

Photo: Hanna Johre / NTB
Therese Johaug presented her new autobiography at the Gyldendal publishing house in Oslo on Oct. 28, 2022.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

She came home to Norway from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics with three gold medals to add to her collection of other Olympic medals, one gold in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, a silver and a bronze in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. In the World Ski Championships, she won 10 individual gold medals, along with four gold medals in relays. Arguably the most celebrated cross-country skier in the world, she has now traded in her ski poles for a TV microphone. Therese Johaug has retired from the world of professional competition and today works as an expert sports commentator for NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. Many believe the world women’s cross-country skiing will not be the same—at least not for a long time.

Photo: Hanna Johre / NTB
Johaug’s book is titled Hele historien (The Whole Story).

Johaug knows that her new job will be something different from what she has done before, but she comes to her new job eminently qualified. There are not many other Norwegians who have been interviewed more often, and few have more direct insights about how the media work, not in the least the realm of television broadcasting. As a professional athlete, she has seen and experienced most things there at the top level.

Nonetheless, the star athlete begins her new career with mixed feelings: “It will be both exciting and scary,” she told the press. “I think it’s fantastic to be part of the environment and to be around permanent places.”

Last year in March, at age 34, the international champion announced her retirement from professional competition. But according to her new biography, Hele historien (The Whole Story), she knew already a year before then that she would stop competing and transition to a new career.

At a book reading at the Gyldendal publishing house in Oslo last October, Johaug revealed that she first told her partner, Nils Jakob Hoff, about the decision after returning home from the Beijing games. The conversation took place through a kitchen window, because at that time, Nils Jakob had contracted coronavirus.

“It was very painful, and it felt like breaking up with my boyfriend to say it out loud,” she said.

Johaug further revealed that she already felt like putting an end to her career after her gold win at the World Cup in Oberst­dorf, Germany, in 2021, but she mustered up the motivation to give it a go for another season. The desire to compete in another Olympics was still there.

In her book, the legendary skier writes about how she had considered quitting the international competition circuit even earlier. In 2017, the controversial doping ban that had kept her from competing for 18 months had sapped her of all motivation. She blamed a Norwegian team medic for the scandal and felt she was being unjustly held back. For the first time in September that year, she no longer felt like training, and during a vacation trip in Sarasota, Fla., she did stop training altogether. Life suddenly felt meaningless for Johaug.

“You know what, I don’t want to keep doing this anymore,” she blurted out to her partner, Nils Jakob.

He took her outburst it in stride, providing her support. “You should be allowed to hang it up. If that’s what you want, that’s perfectly fine,” he told her.

“But you are not allowed to give up here and now because now you are so tired that you don’t even know what you are lying here saying,” he said.

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB
These days, you will find Therese Johaug behind a microphone, as she has transitioned to a new career as an expert sports commentator for NRK.

When she returned to Oslo, her desire to train gradually came back. She made a comeback with a bang. Johaug was back on the circuit—and the rest is sports history.

Johaug is not the first Norwegian athlete to jump straight into the role of media personality after ending an active career as a competitor, and she faces challenges with the transition. It means that she will have to provide commentary on other athletes she knows well; she will have to offer both praise and criticism about former colleagues, some who she has recently competed against and teamed up with, even some who she still trains with. And with these kinds of close relationships in place, it can be difficult to be 100% objective.

When asked how it feels to comment on people with whom she has had such a close associations, Johaug answered: “I’m not looking to slaughter people; I’m rather looking to build up cross-country skiing. I will concentrate mostly on the sporting aspect, thinking back to when I competed myself, combined with talking about the different qualities the different athletes have,” she said.

Photo: Fredrik Varfjell / NTB
Therese Johaug shows off the three gold medals that she won in the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

With their star skier gone from competition, there has been much speculation on how cross-country skiing will look for the Norwegians, both in the current season and in the coming years.

Johaug has for a long time been open about the challenges that Norwegian cross-country skiing faces, and the topic is also central to her book. She acknowledges that the Norwegian national team will not be any stronger and that there are basically no more potential candidates left to pick up the podium places in the World Cup and other championships—at least not in the short term.

Yet the skier-turned-commentator remains positive. “Yes, there have been challenges with recruitment, but I feel that we have a good basis now to get a good performance culture back again,” she said.

“We must try to build cross-country skiing upward and forward. There has been a negative development in recent years, and you just have to be honest about that. I hope to be able to contribute, so that we can create some buzz and positivity around them.”

Source: NTB

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.