Quadruple Russian victory shocks Norway
Johaug wins her race by a huge margin
Jo Christian Weldingh
The cross-country skiing race in Holmenkollen is one of the most classic and prestigious skiing competitions in the world. Held in Holmenkollen, Oslo, since 1982, it has become the most important event of the winter sport season, next to the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and the Olympics.
The 50-km men’s race has more often than not been won by a Norwegian skier. Six out of the 10 last victors have been Norwegian, and we must go back as far as 2006 to find a Holmenkollen race without a Norwegian in the top three.
Heading into this year’s race, March 9, with the Norwegian men taking home every gold medal at the previous week’s World Championships as a backdrop, the whole country of Norway expected, almost demanded, a Norwegian victory. Their expectations would not be met.
Russian wonder Aleksandr Bolshunov won, and his countrymen Maxim Vylegzhanin, Andrey Larkov, and Ilya Semikov placed second, third, and fourth. Bolshunov became the youngest-ever winner of the Holmenkollen 50-km race and, as the victor, got ushered up for the traditional meeting with King Harald after crossing the finish line. Not only did he get to meet the Norwegian king, he also dethroned this season’s Norwegian skiing king, Johannes Klæbo, by passing him in the overall world standings.
“I’m very happy,” Bolshunov told NRK. “The conditions were rough today, but my skis were super.”
Newly crowned world champion in the 15-km in Seefeld, Austria, Martin Johnsrud Sundby, summed the race up perfectly when interviewed after the race. “We got squashed today, and it really sucks,” he said grinning bitterly.
Norwegian national team coach Eirik Myhr Nossum was both disappointed with his own team and impressed with the Russians.
“I must admit that it really hurts, but the Russian team was amazing today,” said Nossum. “I am really impressed with what they did at the end there,” referring to the moment when the Russian quartet broke away from the rest a few kilometers before the finish line.
“Maybe we used up all our energy during the World Championships,” he continued. “I don’t know.”
In the women’s 30-km, March 10, however, everything went as expected. Therese Johaug won by a huge margin, just like she has done in every race since her comeback last fall. This margin was incredible. Natalya Nepryayeva from Russia came in second, 1 minute and 45 seconds behind. Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Østberg took third place by a few inches after beating Swede Ebba Anderson in a finishing sprint.
With this victory, Johaug took her fourth 30-km win in Holmenkollen in the last 10 years. Marit Bjørgen, who retired last year, won the other six.
On a beautiful winter day, Johaug appreciated all the support she got from the thousands of spectators that stood around the track cheering her name.
“It’s equally fantastic every time. There’s something special about winning in Holmenkollen,” Johaug said in her victory interview. “It’s impossible to get a better Holmenkollen Sunday than this. It was incredibly fun racing in front of this many spectators.”
In Nordic Combined, Jarl Magnus Riiber finished first. In ski jumping, Robert Johansson finished first in the individual competition and helped the Norwegian men win the team competition with two jumps of 144 meters. Among the women, Maren Lundby was a disappointing fifth.
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 April 5, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.