Klæbo is youngest to win Tour de Ski
Norwegians dominated, with Ingvild Flugstad Østberg victorious in the women’s event
Jo Christian Weldingh
Johannes Høsflot Klæbo had nightmares about the finishing climb up the slalom hill the night before his final Tour de Ski race, the 9-km pursuit final climb, and hardly slept at all. Now the almost 23-year-old is the youngest-ever Tour de Ski champion. The Tour de Ski consists of seven races at four venues: Toblach, Italy; Val Muestair, Switzerland; Oberstdorf, Germany; and Val di Fiemme, Italy. It was held Dec. 29 to Jan. 6.
“I slept really, really badly, and I was wide awake at 6 a.m.,” he said. “I must have been up and down that hill at least 10 times during the night.” The hill in question was the climb up Alpe Cermis, an alpine skiing hill that serves as the finish for every Tour de Ski.
He chose not to see the hill before the race because he was afraid it would demotivate him, but his grandfather, coach Kåre Høsflot, reveals that he has been there a couple of times before to see what it looks like.
Klæbo was leading the tour before the last leg, with Russian Sergey Ustjugov, who won the tour in 2016-17, trailing about a minute and a half behind. Ustjugov was faster up the last climb than Klæbo, but the young Norwegian crossed the finish line first.
“I’m tired now, no doubt,” said Klæbo. “I felt them behind me all the way up and it’s like they’re almost about to catch up with you. Luckily, they were further behind than I feared, but I really hate this hill.”
With this victory, Klæbo is now the youngest ever Tour de Ski winner at 22 years and 76 days. Dario Cologna from Switzerland, the former record holder, was 22 years and 299 days when he won.
“Yeah, I’m lucky that way, being born late in the year,” he said, laughing, after being asked about his new record. “Thanks, Mom and Dad.”
Klæbo placed first in the 1.3-km sprint (2:16.8), 1.4-km sprint (3:04.6), 15-km pursuit (35:07.5), 15-km mass start (40:52.6), and 9-km pursuit freestyle final climb (32:51.3), ninth in 15-km mass start (45:35.9), and 12th in 5-km interval (31:22.7).
Simen Hegstad Krüger, Norwegian Olympic gold medalist from Pyeongchang, who placed third, was impressed by Klæbo’s performance in the tour.
“Winning the tour on your first try is impressive,” said Krüger. “He has been amazing all week and he deserves it.”
Ingvild Flugstad Østberg also took a Tour de Ski victory back to Norway, after winning by almost three minutes in the women’s Tour. Østberg has been the favorite from start to finish this season, and there was never any real doubt about who would take home the trophy. Both Therese Johaug and Swede Charlotte Kalla decided not to participate.
The victory probably felt extra good for Østberg, who has placed second in the tour two times before.
“A lot went through my mind when I passed the finish line,” she said, smiling. “It felt amazing.”
Østberg finished first in the 10-km mass start (32:08.9), 10-km classical mass start (29:24.4), and 9-km pursuit freestyle final climb (35:15.0), second in the 10-km interval start (23:20.2), fourth in the 1.4-km sprint (3:31.6), and 16th in the 1.5-km sprint (2:38.9).
Last year’s winner, Heidi Weng, has been out of shape all winter and finished in seventh place.
“When you’re in shape, everything feels great, but the hill was tougher than I remember,” she said to the press.
Many of the top skiers in the world didn’t participate in this year’s Tour de Ski because they prioritized their preparations for the World Championship, which is held later this winter.
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the January 25, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.