No longer new kids on the block
Newcomers Granerud, Lægreid, and McGrath making their marks
JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
Norway was recently ranked as the sportiest nation in the world per capita by greatestsportingnation.com—for the fourth year in a row. The Norwegian victory relied heavily on triumphs in the annual rankings for biathlon, cross-country skiing, and Nordic Combined, and podium finishes in alpine skiing and ski jumping. The dominance in sports performed on snow and ice is a consequence of the seemingly never-ending Norwegian talent pool. Almost every season, an unknown Norwegian winter sport talent takes the final step and becomes someone to be reckoned with on the international stage.
Toward the end of 2020, three young Norwegians broke through on the highest international level in their sport: ski jumper Halvor Egner Granerud, 24, biathlete Sturla Holm Lægreid, 23, and alpine skier Atle Lie McGrath, 20.
Granerud made his debut in the World Cup as early as December 2015, when he was 19 years old but had yet to reach his full potential until this season. His fourth place from Sapporo in 2018 was the highlight of his career.
This year, Granerud has won six out of 13 competitions and placed second twice. At the Four Hills, a weeklong event at four different venues—Oberstdorf, Germany; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Innsbruk, Austria; and Bischofshofen, Austria—Granerud placed fourth. During December’s Ski Flying world championship in Planica, Slovenia, Granerud won the silver medal in the individual competition and the gold medal in the team competition. As of Jan. 13, he was atop the World Cup standings with 948 points, 264 points better than Markus Eisenbichler of Germany.
Lægreid was unknown to most Norwegians heading into this biathlon season. The 23-year-old from Bærum had won a gold medal in the Junior World Championship but had yet to make his World Cup debut. Barely two months later, he has won four World Cup races and is placed second in the overall World Cup (481 points), only beaten by another Norwegian, Johannes Thingnes Bø (522 points), who has dominated the sport in the last three seasons. Teammates Johannes Dale and Tarjei Bø are third and fourth, respectively.
McGrath earned his first World Cup points last season with a 22nd place in the Kitzbühel, Austria slalom race. He also won the overall European Cup (the level below the World Cup) last season at the age of 19 and was named one of Norway’s biggest skiing talents. He placed on the podium for the first time when he came in second in this season’s first giant slalom race in Alta Badia, Italy, only beaten by skiing legend Alexis Pinturault of France. “Kom igjen, a! That’s what I’m talking about,” he roared as he crossed the finish line in an original mix of Norwegian and English. McGrath was born in Vermont and moved to Bærum outside of Oslo when he was 2 years old. His father, Felix McGrath, was an American World Cup skier from 1984 to 1990, his best result being a second place in slalom. Since this article was written, it was announced on Jan. 19 that McGrath would need surgery on a torn ligament in his left knee, an injury sustained Jan. 8 at Adelbodden, Switzerland, ending his season.
Granerud, Lægreid, and McGrath all have great futures in their respective sports, and it will be exciting to see if they will be able to perform at their top level in this winter’s big championships. The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined) 2021 is scheduled for Feb. 23–March 7 in Oberstdorf, Germany. The Biathlon World Championships will be held in Pokljuka, Slovenia, Feb. 11-21, while FIS Alpine World Ski Championships will take place in Cortina d’ Ampezzo, Italy. Feb. 8–21.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.