For 20 years, Marit Bjørgen (41) says she saw friends from the national team eat their food and lose weight. Now she is speaking.
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The dining room table was cozy. But what eventually happens around the table should also create frustration for Marit Bjørgen for most of her career. Frustration at what he saw: Teammates who just toyed with food.
– It was in periods, occasionally, when it was challenging and demanding, Marit Bjørgen now tells VG.
It was the social meeting point in the meetings of the national team. In the early 2000s, Bjørgen thrived around the dining room table.
The conversation was so easy that dinner and dessert became dinner without athletes leaving the table, writes NRK journalist Ingerid Stenvold in Marit Bjørgen’s biography “Winner Heart,” due to be published on Tuesday.
But once, after the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when Bente Skari left, and Bjørgen and Vibeke Skofterud were instrumental in the cross-country women’s generational shift, something changed.
Suddenly, the runners of the national team stopped eating dessert. It was so surprising that Bjørgen thought maybe he had to drop dessert too, he says in the book:
“I did the right thing?”
In recent weeks, VG has written about cross-country skiing eating disorders. Christiane Honerud Olsen developed bulimia. Siri Halle was never crowded. National team running back Pål Golberg sounded the alarm when he saw teammate Emilie Fleten fighting.
VG meets with Marit Bjørgen and Ingerid Stenvold on Monday in connection with the book launch. The story of the lady with 18 World Cup golds and eight Olympic golds will be revealed to the people.
Bjørgen drinks coffee. Beneath a wave shirt and dark pants is the body of the all-time Winter Olympics.
She even gave me a spin when she saw her teammates drop dessert.
“I did the right thing?”
But Bjørgen was quick to trust his own choice.
«An eternal side of the shadow»
Food, body, nutrition, and eating disorders involve her. Marit Bjørgen says it was frustrating that the others on the team didn’t see she in regards to food intake. She was the best cross country skier in the world.
Research has shown that 30 percent of top-level cross-country skiers struggle with eating disorders to one degree or another. It rises above the rest of the population. In the last year, there has also been an increase in eating disorders in the general population, and it is the young who seem to have the most difficulties.
In the book on Bjørgen, Stenvold writes that the cross country queen was sometimes frustrated and bored when she watched her teammates lose weight.
The challenges around diet, body and food were there for almost 20 years on the national team. She describes him as “one side of the eternal shadow”.
Bjørgen is known as a lady who uses consent, whatever happens. Both before the first World Cup gold in 2003 and on the way to gold number 18 in 2017. But she can be upset, and if there is something that provokes it, it is when someone says that it is difficult to get enough food when you train a lot. This also applies to managers and doctors.
– To say that it is demanding to get enough, no one needs to say, because it is just stupid, says Bjørgen, which is clear in the book:
Åge Skinstad was Sporting Director for Norwegian Cross Country Skiers from 2006 to 2015.
He says they always focused on nutrition. Even he was often present at the dinner table during the meeting. But he says he never saw the same thing as Marit Bjørgen.
– No, I didn’t see anyone playing with food. I did not see it. But if he had reacted, he would have told the right people. We had strict routines in connection with the World Cup with health exams. We took it seriously, we had the athlete focused, says Skinstad.
National team physician Øystein Andersen says he still receives nutrition inquiries.
– It is quite possible to get enough nutrition. In some situations it is demanding, but it is entirely possible. There are many examples of this, Andersen tells VG.
– Are eating disorders a problem in Norwegian cross-country skiing?
– We know what happens and it is a problem in itself. We want to do something about it, and one case is too much.
– Are the skiers of the national team in cross-country skiing good role models in terms of body?
– Mainly I think so. They are healthy, fast and in good health, and in that sense they are good role models, Andersen responds.
Notified about teammates
Marit Bjørgen praises Vibeke Skofterud for her openness around eating disorders. Skofterud, who died in a jet ski accident in 2018, struggled with overeating and could vary in weight.
Bjørgen thinks back 20 years, when she and Skofterud were meeting in the US before the 2002 Olympics. One of the support staff is said to have said that “maybe not everyone needs this tail” and he asked “if it was necessary with a strong sauce,” it says in the book.
Bjørgen says he was upset by those comments.
In a few months, Vibeke Skofterud lost a lot of weight. Eventually he would become someone who dared to speak out about his own challenges in the media.
Bjørgen himself has notified his teammates in the health service, he says. Repeatedly. Especially in the last ten years in the national team, he took responsibility. She was the best and the oldest.
– The coach must go to the athlete
– When you start having thoughts about food and you can’t eat, and you have to lose a few kilos, then the ball starts to roll a little. Then you could get some results and progress, then the ball rolls even more, describes Bjørgen.
She believes that it is possible to see who is struggling with nutrition and the body, if you look at it.
– Parents or coaches who know their athlete, should see him. I’ve been on a team, I’ve gotten closer. I saw it when they were very bad at nutrition, says Bjørgen.
– And it is the coach who must go to the athlete. It is important to know your doctor. If you are a little suspicious, take it immediately.
Bjørgen experiences that the focus on diet and weight improved towards the end of his career, but that there is still a way to go.
He wonders how many talents Norwegian sports have lost along the way due to the challenges of the body and nutrition. She has great empathy on how to go from being a girl to becoming a woman. Many things are happening.
– Young people must act in all areas. The girls show their bodies and get a lot of likes. It’s hard to keep up with yourself, he says.
In the new biography, Ingerid Stenvold writes:
When Bjørgen received an award during the Sports Gala in 2012, she was wearing an asymmetrical dress that showed off her muscular upper arms. The images received enormous attention.
Bjørgen says that sometimes she has not been able to walk in the clothes she wants.
– Show your muscles in the media and get big headlines, it hasn’t been so much fun the whole time. It makes you dress up. It is a pity that it is so. It can be difficult to stand up, she says.
The Winter Olympics of all time have a clear appeal for all who follow them on the ski slope: nutrition and food must not be silenced to death.
– Those of us in the national team are role models. The more we talk about it and the more we focus on it, the better.
Do you suspect that you or someone you know is struggling with eating disorders?
Call 22 94 00 10, the information and emergency telephone number of the Association for Eating Disorders.