By Teemu Virtanen
The summer is approaching its tail end as we speak, and Pro Team athletes have been busy with their extensive dryland training as the more intensive fall season is soon upon them.
After the mentally arduous spring with the worldwide pandemic hitting every corner of the world, our athletes can now go about their business as usual, or at least almost so, and train outside without any major restrictions.
These unusual times have been extremely challenging for young athletes since they need room to grow and reach the potential they possess in a sport that is still relatively new to them.
Last season, it was really refreshing to see so many outstanding performances from our young athletes.
Lager 157 Ski Team’s Emil Persson won two races, Team Ramudden had three young athletes, Max Novak, Ida Dahl and Jenny Larsson, who shone brightly throughout the season, Team Kaffebryggeriet’s Stian Berg won the sprint competition, Team Koteng’s Torleif Syrstad was third at Vasaloppet again, Team Ragde Eiendom’s Thea Krokan Murud managed to get top 10 positions, Team Mäenpää’s (now called Team Nordic Athlete) Viktor Mäenpää was one of the key figures in the impressive breakaway at Vasaloppet, and many other young skiers showed promise in the Pro Tour this winter.
“This is something we haven’t seen before,” Max Novak admits. “In my opinion, it’s a trend that’s been going on in the world of sports for some years now. Younger athletes have stopped caring about old norms, such as the common belief that you need to have been in the sport and trained for quite a long time before you can deliver consistently. Now, this trend has come to long distance skiing.”
Max certainly knows what he is talking about. He was very offensive and oozed courage in every race, and he won the Youth category and finished among the ten best skiers in five races. His teammate Jenny agrees with him and says that the sport is now shifting from the “old guys’ sport” to a new dominance by a younger generation.
“I absolutely think many skiers at a younger age start to see that you can develop and compete at different arenas than traditional skiing. And seeing young skiers doing well in Visma Ski Classics makes it further appealing for a larger number of new-comers to try it out and get inspired. VSC is an extremely well-organized and professional product with attractive races that many find tempting,” says Jenny.
Viktor Mäenpää is on the same page with the Team Ramudden athletes, but he points out that one still needs some years of experience to be the king or the queen of the sport.
“I think you need a little bit of routine and experience to win the Champion bib, but I hope there will be more youngsters up there fighting for the yellow bib in the future. We have to get more people interested in the sport and make it more accessible to everyone. Visma Ski Classics has done a good job, but I think we can do much more. Especially, all the Pro Teams in the tour.”
Max and Jenny’s teammate Ida Dahl also thinks that Pro Teams are the key to the development of the sport, and she urges us to pay more attention to them and their young skiers.
“I think we should try to make our teams more team-like in many ways. We athletes know what a team means to us and what it is, but people watching our races don’t necessarily have a clear understanding of the concept. And young athletes can certainly contribute and carry their weight. We just need to make our teams bigger and make the Pro Team competition more appealing. Strong teams will also attract more young skiers and make the sport much bigger,” says Ida.
Ida Dahl at La Diagonela.
What else do these young athletes want to see taking shape in their sport and Visma Ski Classics?
“We just have to improve our brand to make it more interesting for young athletes, and then it´s up to the teams to give them the opportunity,” Viktor states firmly.
“This year was better than ever in terms of having the youth influence,” Max continues Viktor’s train of thought. “So, we’re going in the right direction, and time is what will make it even more diversified. Maybe we should highlight the Youth competition a bit more; finding a bib sponsor would surely help as that would mean more prize money to the winner.”
Jenny brings up the fact that young people need idols and examples to follow.
“We should not underestimate the power of our great experienced national skiers who inspire us. They are still leading the way. In Sweden, young female skiers have Lina, Britta, Laila, and previously Sara Lindborg, who they can look up to, to see how they are taking double poling to another level, and in Norway, they have their own role models! But then, it’s the teams’ responsibility to provide young skiers with opportunities to try their wings in Visma Ski Classics.”
Inspiration is always greatly appreciated, and young skiers need indelible heroes to pave the way to the top. These young Visma Ski Classics athletes have already laid the foundations for more to come and dip their toes into the waters of long distance skiing. Season XI is ready for an even greater invasion of youth.