Toppidrettsveka 2015: Athletes trade snow skis for roller skis

Photo: Gjermund Midtbø / NRK Heidi Weng was the surprise winner of two of Toppidrettsveka’s women’s races, and the overall event.

Photo: Gjermund Midtbø / NRK
Heidi Weng was the surprise winner of two of Toppidrettsveka’s women’s races, and the overall event.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

The fjords of western Norway serve as the perfect backdrop for the world’s elite cross country skiers to show off their midseason progress each summer; it has rolling hills, stunning views, enthusiastic spectators, and … snow? No, you won’t see any snow at Toppidrettsveka, but you will get to watch the best of the best competing on roller skis.

Toppidrettsveka has been held since 2005 and spans three days, this year from August 20 to 22. The annual sporting event starts with an uphill footrace, followed by a classic sprint in Aure, a mass start 15 kilometer skiathlon in Knyken, and the 15 kilometer classic pursuit finale in Trondheim—all on wheels. The competition is scored using the method of the World Cup, where athletes earn 100 points for first place, 80 for second, and so on.

This year, Toppidrettsveka welcomed athletes from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Russia, France, Italy, Canada, Japan, and—for the first time—the United States. 2015 marks the first year that the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team was invited to participate in the Norwegian event, with eight members of the team traveling to Norway to compete: Kikkan Randall, Jessie Diggins, Caitlin Gregg, Liz Stephen, Sophie Cadwell, Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, and Noah Hoffman.

“This is a new style of camp for the U.S. team and for a lot of us this will be our first try at any big roller ski competitions,” admitted Andy Newell on the team’s website, where several members of the team shared their thoughts on the experience.

“I’m loving the Norway camp so far! We have been lucky with some sunny days this week and the roller skiing along the fjords is both beautiful and exactly what we were hoping for in terms of rolling terrain,” says Jessie Diggins.

When they weren’t training, the U.S. team took some time to explore the country a bit, going fishing and even bridge jumping. But by August 20, the training (and exploring) had to come to an end as the competition began with the Fonna Opp and sprint races.

In the Fonna Opp hill race, Norwegian talents Therese Johaug and Heidi Weng came in first and second with American Liz Stephen taking third place. Norwegian Didrik Tønseth led the men’s race, followed by Swedish Martin Johansson and American Noah Hoffman. Later in the day, the Norwegians dominated once again as Heidi Weng and Petter Northug won the sprints.

The next race took the athletes to Knyken for the skiathlon. Weng crossed the finish line first, surprised at her win over teammate Johaug in second place. On the men’s side, Swedish Calle Halfvarsson got the victory, followed by Norwegians Eirik Brandsdal and Simen Østensen.

For the finale, the skiers raced through downtown Trondheim in front of a huge crowd. Norway dominated the classic pursuit (to little surprise), taking the top three in both men’s and women’s races.

Weng started the race with a 47-second lead over Johaug and increased it by almost 30 seconds throughout the 15 km race to take the win and the overall Toppidrettsveka victory. Johaug and Kathrine Harsem followed in second and third, respectively.

Weng reacts to her surprising win, telling NRK: “It has been true that Marit and Therese are the big ones. So I’ve always thought that I can’t do as much as them. But maybe I need to start trusting that I can also go fast.”

“Heidi can do more than she knows. She has to start believing in herself,” agrees Johaug.

Simen Østensen, skiing for Fossum IF, also took both the Trondheim win and the overall victory. Didrik Tønseth took second and Eirik Bransdal took third.

“Incredibly fun victory today and overall in Toppidrettsveka. At the end, I felt strong,” said Østensen to NTB. “In the winter, the focus will be on the long distance and I am feeling very positive after this week.”

Even though the Norwegians dominated, the U.S. team was happy with their performance and the opportunity to compete against the best of the best. “That’s one important reason that we are here: to learn,” said U.S. head coach Chris Grover.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.