By Johan Trygg
Martin Johnsrud Sundby continues his skiing career. Now, however, the goal is not victories at the World Cup or in championships. Now Sundby will aim for triumphs in Visma Ski Classics.
“The goal is to put together a strong team and attend the entire Pro Tour. I’m used to going all in, and now I’m doing it again,” says 36-year-old Sundby.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby has a long and successful career in the World Cup behind him. After severe back problems, it looked like he would end his career after the winter. Seventh place at the 15 km in free technic gave inspiration for a continuation, but in a different arena - Visma Ski Classics.
Sundby has twice shown his skills in the Pro Tour. In 2015, he finished second in Birkebeinerrennet behind Petter Elisassen. Two years later, he was back as the winner of the same race. However, total commitment to long distance skiing now awaits Sundby, which is currently putting together a new Pro Team for Visma Ski Classics.
“It’s a lot of work now. This was a little more demanding than I first thought. At the same time, it feels very exciting,” says Sundby.
When he first announced that he would continue his active career with long distance races, it sounded as if he would focus on some of the races and not do the entire Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour. Now it sounds different.
“The goal is to put a strong team with professional backing on its feet and attend the entire Pro Tour. I’m used to going all in, and now I’m doing it again.”
What are you aiming for yourself?
“I think I possess the qualities required to win races - at least the more hilly ones with where capacity becomes crucial. Flatter races with higher speeds have other types of requirements - which is not my strength.”
How will you change your training?
“I need to get better at high speed double poling. When it comes to intervals, I probably need to do them further into the workout; I need to tire out my arms a bit first. I need to increase the endurance in my arms. At the same time, I must take advantage of my capacity. It’s my advantage, and I must not lose it,” Sundby says.
Sundby has fought against back problems the last years, and it was with his free spot as the reigning world champion in 15 km that he came to the World Championship in Oberstdorf.
There he surprised both himself and others with a seventh-place only 20 seconds from the bronze medal. It was very much the performance that gave him inspiration for a continued skiing career in the coming years.
“Based on the circumstances, it was one of the best races in my life. An achievement I am incredibly proud of. A medal was within reach, and it really inspired me to continue. Before, I had doubted and thought that this was my last season.”
Now it’s a motivated Sundby who is looking forward to fighting for victories in Visma Ski Classics and, as it seems, in a new powerful team in the Pro Tour. With him, he has Niklas Dyrhaug, who he had with him together in his team outside the Norwegian national team the last season. Of course, Dyrhaug will also be a new exciting athlete in the Pro Tour. There may also be more Norwegian top skiers who will become part of Sundby’s team.
“I have three or four names in my book. One of them is Didrik Tönseth. It will be interesting to see what the Norwegian national team squad will look like. It can be a bit decisive for what my team will look like,” Sundby explains.
Like many others, Sundby sees an exciting growth for long distance skiing. The fact that the national channels NRK (in Norway) and SVT (in Sweden) will broadcast the entire Visma Ski Classics Pro Tour means that more fans get better opportunities to watch the races.
“I have a strong belief that interest will increase. It will also mean a lot that Marit (Björgen) will do more races in the coming season. I also think we will see Petter (Northug) in some races,” says Sundby.
What do you say about your combatants like Emil Persson, Tord Asle Gjerdalen, and Andreas Nygaard?
“I’m aware that they maintain a very high level. When I see some of the workouts they do, it scares me a little. At the same time, it will be so fun to challenge them. In races around 50 km, I will be able to compete with them. How it will be in the longer races, I am excited to see.
How will you balance family life with a wife and three children with a continued skiing career?
“I will make a good plan for it. It will do one long training session per day,” says Sundby.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby has made twelve seasons in the World Cup, won 30 races, and has 74 podium places. Two Olympic golds are on the merit list, in the sprint relay and relay from Pyeongchang 2018. At the World Championship, he has won nine medals, four of which are gold. He has one individual gold medal in his career, in 15 km classic style in Seefeld 2019.
Top picture: Martin Johnsrud Sundby on his way to victory in Birkebeinerrennet 2017.