Klæbo named Norway’s “New Northug”
With three victories, 21-year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo wins season opening mini-tour
Jo Christian Weldingh
Johannes Høsflot Klæbo was in a class of his own in the first two races during the cross-country skiing season opening mini-tour in Ruka, Finland. The two victories resulted in him starting almost 40 seconds in front of the next nearest competitor, Russian Alexander Bolshunov, on the finishing 15 kilometer pursuit race.
Halfway through the stage, Klæbo looked tired and his pursuers caught up with him. “I tried to go as fast as I could in my own pace, but after three rounds my legs were tired and I had to wait for the others,” he said in the press zone after the race. The 21-year-old used the remainder of the race to rest in the back of the field but awoke when he neared the finish line. When fellow Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby tried to break away in the last climb, Klæbo followed suit, overtaking Sundby in the last hundred meters.
In the end, there were three victories in three days for the 21-year-old Norwegian no one had ever heard of before last year’s breakthrough season. “The best cross-country skier in the world right now,” the Norwegian sports press proclaimed.
The week leading up to the races in Finland were dominated by the Norwegian Skiing Association’s feud with Petter Northug, Norway’s most famous skier. Northug’s form has been below par, to put it mildly, the last couple of seasons, and he was excluded from the mini-tour. Northug responded with an Instagram meme, mocking both the coaches and some of his teammates. This sparked a heated debate about whether or not Northug should have been chosen solely based on his good record from the Olympics and World Championships, which dominated the Norwegian sports media’s headlines the last few days before the mini-tour in Ruka.
After Klæbo’s amazing performance in Finland, however, people seemed to have forgotten about Northug. Klæbo has been proclaimed the “New Northug” and is being compared to cross-country skiing legend Bjørn Dæhlie in the news media. “I am very impressed,” Norwegian coach Tor Arne Hetland said, “Klæbo is a diamond.”
“That’s awfully nice of him, but I think he’s exaggerating a bit. Let’s just say I have started the season in a good way,” Klæbo modestly responds when confronted with Hetland’s comment.
The runner up in Finland, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who has dominated the World Cup and the Tour de Ski the last couple of years, was clearly impressed by Klæbo. “He is by far the best overall skier at the moment, in many ways, especially when it comes to skiing technique; he takes cross-country skiing to a new level. It’s almost humiliating,” he said with a smile. “It’s also extremely inspiring to see what he does, at least when you take into account that he’s 21 years old and only in his second season as a senior. I love having him on our team.”
Hailed by the media, his competitors, and his teammates, it will be exciting to see if Klæbo will be able to keep this level of performance up all winter. He has been quoted on saying his form will peak during the Olympics in February.
Klæbo is a Norwegian cross-country skier who represents Byåsen IL. He competed at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2017 in Lahti, Finland, winning a bronze medal in the men’s sprint competition. On March 17 in Quebec City, he won his first small crystal ball in the World Cup sprint and also won the Helvetia U23 ranking by winning the end of season mini-tour.
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 Dec. 15, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784.4617.