The experts believe that Norway is going to the Beijing Olympics with a weaker starting point in the women’s relay than in many years.
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– It is a thin team, but Norway is among the favorites anyway, says NRK expert Torgeir Bjørn to VG about the relay that takes place in almost exactly one month (February 12).
Norway took Olympic gold in the relay in 2010, completely smeared itself away in 2014 and became number five, but was back on top in 2018.
– We have a weaker team than many times before. Marit Bjørgen is out, we can not use Ingvild Flugstad Østberg and Helene Marie Fossesholm is unsure. She is far from in shape and has not responded normally in many months, says Bjørn.
Fossesholm stood by the Tour de Ski before the final stage up the downhill slope in Val di Fiemme. She does not think anything of the question she was asked then:
The NRK expert believes that the relay team can be more than exciting to compose. He keeps Tiril Udnes Weng as a good relay starter, but then the challenges arise. Who will go 2nd stage against Frida Karlsson and Natalja Neprjajeva, if Therese Johaug will go the stage she is best suited for: 3rd stage?
She who went the third stage in the gold race in the Olympics four years ago, Ragnhild Haga, is wrecked this time. She also took Olympic gold in the 10 kilometer freestyle in 2018.
Three Norwegian ladies took individual medals in the previous WC. Johaug took three individual golds in Oberstdorf, Maiken Caspersen Falla took silver in the sprint, while Heidi Weng took silver in three miles behind Johaug. Norway won the relay.
TV 2 expert Petter Soleng Skinstad believes that Heidi Weng should already now be told that she will go the anchor stage, in order to mentally prepare for the task.
– Heidi is by far the best finisher in Norway. It’s about self-confidence. Fossesholm is an uncertain map. It is smoother than in many years, and it is not right to put Helene in the anchor position now, says Skinstad.
National team coach Ola Vigen Hattestad says that the relay team is not ready, even though some names say themselves. If Fossesholm does not find the Olympic form, Anne Kjersti Kalvå or Lotta Udnes Weng will most likely go a stage.
– I am impressed that Skinstad knows Heidi so well, but it is no secret that Heidi is relevant for the final stage. Ole Morten and we who work with the team have a little better control than Skinstad, Hattestad says to VG.
Helene Marie Fossesholm had a tough time on the anchor leg – had to be supported out of the goal area
The national team coach is impressed with the level and breadth of Sweden.
– We were excited before the World Cup relay last year as well, Sweden proclaimed themselves favorites, we agreed and were very happy when we beat them. We think about the relay team quite often, says Hattestad.
Russia won the World Cup relay in Lillehammer the first weekend in December, ahead of Sweden. Norway came in third.
– We must realize two things, we see the beginning of the end of the Norwegian dominance for women. Marit and Astrid (Uhrenholdt Jacobsen) have posted. Ragnhild (Haga) does not work. Maiken (Caspersen Falla) sings the last verse. After the Olympics and the World Cup, the abnormally good series of results Norwegian women’s cross-country skiing has had for 10-12 years may be over, says Skinstad.
One thing Bjørn, Skinstad and Hattestad agree on: It has been a long time since women’s cross-country skiing has been so exciting. There are several nations that can take a medal, and several runners who can challenge for the podium in the Olympics. Hattestad thinks it would be strange if the other nations would not be paid too much and a good job.
– The Germans have some athletes going on. Finland has received a boost. The United States has been there for a long time. Russia is good. It is very gratifying, says Hattestad.
Skinstad expects the press to shout crisis on behalf of Norwegian women’s cross-country skiing if the others behind one newly engaged Therese Johaug does not deliver, or there will be no medal in the relay.
– It is complained that the Norwegian dominance destroys the sport, now there is an insane tension around the women’s class that we have not had in many years. Then it becomes comical that they get shut up for going too slow. As a Norwegian cross-country skier, it is a bit difficult to appease everyone, says Skinstad.