Nations Cup: 11397pts (1st)
Men: 4722pts (1st)
Women: 6675 (1st)
When you name 45 athletes to the national team, you know you’re in for a good season. Norway hosted the World Championships last season and showed why they are the top ski nation in the world as they won eight of the 12 possible gold medals. In the four races that they didn’t win gold, they won silver three times and bronze once. Not too shabby…
Long-time servant for the Norwegians, Jens Arne Svartedal finally called it a career at the end of very impressive career. The 35-year old was outside the national team the past couple years, but throughout his career he wore the Norwegian flag proudly and was one of the best all-rounders in his day. The classic specialist won 12 World Cups, was the 2007 World Sprint Champion, and earned a bronze medal with the 4x10km relay team in Torino. He was one of the more consistent skiers of the last decade and scored at least one World Cup medal in every year from 2000-2009. His rap sheet is even more impressive as he stepped on the World Cup podium 22 times in his career and hit the start line 120 times. That’s an average of one podium every six races.
Marte Elden is stepping away from the scene too, but it appears to be temporary as she plans to focus on her schooling this season. Last year, Elden had a breakout season and finished 20th in the World Cup Overall. She is one athlete that I truly felt sorry for, truly an amazing talent and if she was from any other nation other than Norway, she would’ve been one of the top skiers, but with Norway’s current overwhelming amount of talent, Elden never even got to race at the World Champs.
The Sprint Gutta (Sprint Boys) is one of the most cut-throat squads around. The amount of talent is pretty ridiculous. One or two bad races in a row and you’re out, just ask John Kristian Dahl… Ola Vigen Hattestad (2nd ranked) led the charge for Norway, and had a great run of results leading up to the World Champs with a 1st, 2nd, 2nd, but just missed the medals in front of the home crowd where he finished in 4th.
There was also Bransdal (5th ranked) who won his first race in Otepaa and Northug (6th) who surprisingly didn’t win a race last season, but was runner-up once in Stockholm. John Kristian Dahl (11th) had a great start to the season, but his form dipped when it counted the most and wasn’t selected for the World Champs team. Add in Pettersen (20th), Gløersen (21st), Golberg (24th), Kjølstad (40th) and well, you get the point. Norway has a bottomless pit of talent.
The Norwegian men had 22 different athletes score World Cup points last season. Some might argue about Norway being allowed to enter more athletes at races like Drammen due to the national team rules, but let’s remember Drammen is one of the hardest sprint races on the circuit, unlike Rybink where Russia has a handful of athletes qualifying simply because there isn’t enough athletes to round-out the top 30.
While the women’s team isn’t quite as deep, it’s still pretty damn impressive. Led by the woman that can do no wrong, Bjørgen finished 4th in the Sprint Cup which is a little misrepresentative of her true quality. Youngster Falla (6th) was a great surprise last season and really came out her shell and finished off the season extremely strong as she medalled in the final three races she entered with a 3rd in Otepaa, 2nd in Drammen, and 3rd in Stockholm. Jacobsen (7th) finally regained her form that we saw as she became the 2007 Sprint Champion and earned three podiums.
Brun-Lie (14th) and the junior superstar Østberg (22nd) are great supporting cast and Østberg should continue to improve this season and become a name that will be in the top 10 more often.
Over the past couple seasons, Norway’s men have been heavily criticised for their results, or lack thereof in the distance races. If you took Northug out of the picture, the distance team would’ve been feeble at best. However, last season is when they turned it all around. In addition to Northug (5th), Norway had Rønning (11th), Johnsrud Sundby (18th), Gjerdalen (24th) and Røthe (40th) who all had very decent years.
I want to highlight Rønning specifically as his season was exceptionally good. Of his six races that he scored points in, he finished 4th, 8th, 1st, 7th, 7th, 5th. That is some impressive constancy.
The highlights for the squad came from the World Champs at Holmenkollen where all the athletes skied to their full potential, something Norway wasn’t accustomed to seeing over the past couple seasons. In the 30km pursuit it was Northug who beat the Russians at the sprint with Johnsrud Sundby in 5th and Røthe in 14th. In the 15km classic it would’ve been a historical day for Norway if it was for Heikkinen as Rønning finished 2nd and Johnsrud Sundby finished 5th. There was also Eliassen (15th) and Røthe (21st) who had great races in the 76 skier field. On the final day of the World Champs it was truly a historical day for Norway as it was Northug who once again won an amazing sprint finish while Gjerdalen was 3rd and Johnsrud Sudby was 4th. It would have been an even more impressive day if Eliassen didn’t bail on the final hill and was dropped to 11th.
There is also Finn Hågen-Krogh who surprised everyone in the World Cup Finale to finish 2nd in the mini-tour. The kid is still young and has a lot of room to improve, but with the confidence he gained from the end of last season, expect to be very familiar with his name by the time the season ends.
So long story short, after an amazing World Championships, Norwegian ski fans will be expecting their men to continue to perform to the high bar that they set last March, the big question is will they be able to do so.
While the men’s team have strong competition from the likes of Russia and Sweden, the Norwegian women are in a league of their own. I’m actually surprised nobody has nicknamed their relay team “The Untouchables” yet, because that is exactly what they are. At the end of last season is appeared as though that foursome would take a hit with Størmer-Steira was retiring, but has opted to race a couple more seasons.
The 1-2 punch of Bjørgen (2nd ranked) and Johaug (3rd) has probably caused many sleepless nights for Kowalczyk. The world is very aware of what a very special athlete Bjørgen is, but what many skiers saw in Johaug during the 30km mas start at the World Champs was amazing. First, it proved that an athlete can beat Bjørgen even when Bjørgen is on her best form in a distance race. Second, Johaug is still only 23-years old and has potential to improve her skiing which makes her downright scary. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Bjørgen or Johaug on every single distance podium this season.
There is also Kristoffersen (10th) who just turned 22-years old, Jacobsen (11th), Skofterud (17th), Størmer-Steira (18th) and Østberg (28th) who all have a realistic chance of earning a spot on the relay team.
The amount of young talent that Norway has is ridiculous. The Norwegian Ski Federation have a section of the Norwegian national team named “Recruitment Team” specifically for these athletes who are Golberg, Northug, Krogh, Dyrhaug, Tønseth, Weng, Haga, Slind, Hagen, Lauvhaug. They should’ve just named that team, “The Future Superstars”. If my math serves me correct, every single athlete on that team has won at least one medal at World Juniors.
The most impressive thing is that there are athletes that won medals at World Junior last year like Fossli and Skar who aren’t even on the team! At this moment in time, Norway is a non-stop mill of world class ski talent.
There’s nothing wrong with Norway, they are strong in every single aspect of the sport, but that’s what you expect from the nation where the sport was born. Expect them to roll over the competition in the sprints and in the Nations Cup standings this season.