Johaug returns, as dominant as ever
After two-year suspension, cross-country skier Therese Johaug is winning once again
Jo Christian Weldingh
After 988 days since her last World Cup race, Therese Johaug was back competing with the best cross-country skiers in the world. Johaug started up where she left off over two years ago—victorious.
The 30-year-old had been suspended for 18 months in a controversial decision by Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over alleged doping (see www.norwegianamerican.com/news/johaug-suspended-over-doping for more info). The Norwegian Sports Federation imposed a 13-month punishment, but the International Ski Federation (FIS) appealed to the CAS. It cost Johaug last season, and most importantly, a chance at competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
She was expected to win back the cross-country throne after Marit Bjørgen retired last year, and in the World Cup opener in Ruka, Finland, Nov. 25, Johaug showed everyone why. Johaug was happy after her first World Cup win in over two years.
“It’s amazing, and a dream come true,” Johaug said to VG. “I find it hard to believe that it actually happened. I have dreamt of this for over two years, to win in my comeback, and today I made it happen. There’s so much behind this, blood, sweat, and tears. The fact that I could let out a victory roar today feels good for the soul.”
Johaug says she feels proud and that
this would have been impossible without the support she has received from Norwegians everywhere.
“I want to thank the Norwegian people for everything they’ve done for me over the last two years,” she said. “Every smile, every thumb up. It has meant a great deal to me and is a huge part of the reason why I’m standing here today, victorious once again.”
Johaug didn’t lead the 10-km race from start to finish. For a long time, fellow Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Østberg looked like a strong contender for the win, leading at both the 1.1 and the 2.1 km checkpoints. From the checkpoint at 3.3 km, however, it was Johaug’s show in Ruka.
“She’s flying up these hills,” NRK-commentator Jann Post said with great enthusiasm.
In the last 100 meters, she used up her last bits of energy and she literally collapsed when crossing the finish line after 28.02.5 minutes of skiing. When she realized the victory was hers, Johaug first smiled, and then roared with joy.
In reality, no one was even close. Swede Charlotte Kalla was closest, trailing by 22.5 seconds. Ebba Andersson, also from Sweden, came in third, a little bit over 30 seconds behind Johaug.
Østberg came in fourth, 49.5 seconds behind Johaug, and was impressed by her teammate.
“I’m not surprised she won, no,” said Østberg. “I thought she might claim the victory today, but I’m still impressed with the way she does it.”
Heidi Weng, last year’s winner of the World Cup has been a shadow of her former self so far this season. In Ruka, she came in 1.37 behind Johaug, in 13th place.
“I’m happy with this,” Weng said with a smile. “It’s better than last weekend’s national opener. I’m 20 seconds closer to Therese than I was then, so if this development continues, I’ll be up on the podium in no time.”
The national opener on Nov. 18 might have been an omen of what is to come now that Johaug is back on the tracks. At Beitostølen, she outpaced Østberg by 26 seconds, and American Sadie Bjornsen by 1:45.9.
The weekend of Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 Johaug continued her dominant return, winning the overall mini-tour of three events—sprint, 10 km freestyle, and 10 km classic—at Lillehammer. In the climactic 10-km classic, she and Kalla were lockstep for 2.5 km, despite Kalla’s 2.5 second lead at the start. Johaug broke away and won in 29:35.5, besting Andersson by 16.8, Østberg by 17.9, with Kalla falling back to fourth, 23.1 behind Johaug, who also won the 10-km freestyle, again beating Andersson and Kalla.
This season’s biggest event is the World Championship in Seefeld, Austria, Feb. 19 to March 3, 2019.
This article originally appeared in the December 28, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.