A career stop for the great Therese Johaug (33) has many excited about what the next few years will hold for Norwegian women’s cross-country skiing.
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– When Therese called me, half a minute passed during which I couldn’t say anything. It’s a bit brutal considering what she meant for Norwegian women’s cross-country skiing, national team coach Ole Morten Iversen told VG.
On Saturday 5 March, Johaug walked three miles on the legendary trail in Holmenkollen, not far from his front door, for the last. It came on the 11th day after he became world champion for the first time – at Holmenkollen, at a distance of three miles.
Since Marit Bjørgen stepped down in 2018, Johaug has brought Norwegian women’s cross-country skiing following her return from exclusion for the 2018/19 season.
Now more and more people in the environment, the media and the public are afraid of the results. It is a new era in Norwegian cross-country skiing that begins, without Bjørgen and Johaug.
– We’ve been a little worried for a few years. Therese has saved us from a distance, and there will be emptiness. But it can allow other runners to take on more space and responsibility, and can grow on top of it. The fact is that it’s a bit too far to be second best behind Therese, Iversen said.
Johaug won all three individual distance gold medals at the 2019 and 2021 WC, as well as the 2022 Olympics. And at the World Cup, he has almost won “everything” from long-distance events since his return.
Maiken Caspersen Falla won the sprint at Drammen, while Mathilde Myhrvold and Tiril Udnes Weng took the podium this year. Heidi Weng has also won the World Cup race this season.
But overall, it’s narrowly behind Johaug for Norwegian TV viewers who have gotten used to it well in recent years.
– I was coaching the men’s team when Bjørn Dæhlie resigned in 1999, and everyone was asking crisis questions. But in the next race there were five Norwegians who made the top seven. Norway’s cross-country skiing machine continues. While there won’t be a new Therese Johaug in two years, there may be some who are asserting themselves very quickly, says Pål Gunnar Mikkelsplass, ski veteran and Johaug’s personal trainer.
– We have Weng who can win cross-country skiing, and there will probably be many new ones. It is important to do the right thing with those looking to invest in the future. It is rarely as dark as things are made of.
SVT expert Mathias Fredriksson is confident of providing a more entertaining competition without Johaug having the upper hand.
Cross-country skiing lost the biggest athletes, the biggest stars. But sport can now be more interesting, will be smoother, said Fredriksson, calling it a “big loss” for Norway.
Iversen showed that Johaug means a lot to the team, also beyond what he has done on track.
– I went in after Marit surrendered, while Therese came back. Then there was a thought in our mind “what if not, Marit?”. For four years, Therese has entered the role with brilliance, in a slightly different way. But the significance he has for us is inexplicable, says Iversen and further explains:
– Therese is an excellent team player with a lot of humanity and care. He has been a great help, and it would be a huge loss.
PS! Johaug will also end up in Falun next weekend, according to Mikkelsplass. In total, there are 4 Olympic gold and 14 World Cup gold.
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