By Teemu Virtanen
While Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom, is the new king of Visma Ski Classics, Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, is the undisputed queen of the sport. She has reigned over her domain for four consecutive years now. This season, she was on the podium in every race except Reistadløpet in Norway, and she managed to win four races. But the women’s field is getting more competitive every year and she knows that to stay on top means more hard work and dedication.
Johansson Norgren started her skiing career in a similar vein with Nygaard; following her older siblings. She participated in the Junior World Championships, the World Championships and the Olympics. Her best individual result is 11th in the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, and she has two relay medals, bronze and silver, from the World Championships representing Sweden.
In 2013, she did two long distance ski races; Vasaloppet and Årefjällsloppet finishing in the top 10 in both of them, and the following year she did the same, but this time she climbed all the way to the podium in both races (2nd in Vasaloppet and 3rd in Årefjällsloppet). And she realized that long distance skiing was her true calling, and since 2015 she has been on her path to greatness in the sport.
This season, Johansson Norgren also became the greatest legend of the sport by having 18 race wins in Visma Ski Classics. Even if she has achieved the Hertz Champion status in Visma Ski Classics four times in a row, she still appreciates and understands the value of the title.
“It means a lot to me to see that I can still develop as a skier,” Johansson Norgren says when looking back on the season and her long career. “I am happy to be a part of the development in Visma Ski Classics and long distance skiing. This season was the one with a very high overall performance level, and I have been in good physical and mental shape over the whole season. The best race for me was Vasaloppet and I am very happy with that race and how I followed my plan from the first to the last meter. The toughest race was Ylläs-Levi were I had to fight hard to reach the podium.”
When the discussion moves to pondering about the future development, Johansson Norgren seems to be on the same page with Nygaard as she wants to see climb and sprint competitions getting more value.
“I would like to see that at least three athletes getting awarded in the overall climb competition. This will make each race more exciting when more athletes are interested in setting a high pace and earning points in the climbs. I would also like to see that the points from the women’s sprints and climbs count equally with those of the men’s in the team competition. Another improvement would be to award the best team in each race.”
One interesting addition and development for this season was the new skating race, Engadin Skimarathon in Switzerland. Johansson Norgren finished third and her performance probably surprised many as she is known to be a double-poling master rather than a skating specialist.
“I enjoyed the race,” Johansson Norgren admits. “But I think that it’s important to remember what the soul of the Visma Ski Classics is and were we come from. So, I don’t think we need any more skating races. We already have our own identity and it works well.”
Johansson Norgren is a professional athlete and racing and training is her job, but she also has a family to nurture. Her seven-year daughter is her pride and joy, and she is happy to have lots of relatives around to help whenever needed. The summer training season is about getting started, which means plenty of long hours on roller-skis, running, doing strength workouts and exercising with the team at various training camps.
“I look forward to another summer with a lot of training and possibilities to develop even further. Even though I have been training for many years, I still feel that I can improve a lot of things and that gives me a lot of motivation to train and to be an even better skier than before.”
Speaking of improving and getting better every year, it is time to ask her the same question as for Nygaard. In her opinion, what makes a great long distance skier? She takes a moment to think and says quite adamantly that the passion is the key quality.
“You must enjoy the challenge of the long distance races. To have a high maximum speed is a great advantage so that you can follow many breakaway attempts by different athletes and you need the speed for the last meters when many races end with a sprint finish.”
The women’s competition gets harder every season and more female skiers are stepping into the arena, which is a great sign that long distance skiing is becoming more lucrative offering a valuable option for young skiers to become professional athletes. Nevertheless, there is still more room for women in the field, and Johansson Norgren seems to have a way to attract more female skiers.
“I think we will see a large improvement in the number of participants in the women’s start field for the next years. I think if the women’s points were equal to the men’s, more teams would see the benefits of having more women in the team. I think that the fact that the price money is the same for men and women and our great TV production quality over the last years have done, and will do, a lot for attracting more women.”
It is then expected that the upcoming anniversary season, 10th, will have more teams and professional skiers entering the game both in the men’s and women’s competitions. It is time to let Johansson Norgren enjoy her Easter break with the family, but there is one last question that all of us want to know. She is still the queen of long distance skiing, but who could be her toughest runner-up, the rival hungry enough to take the throne from her?
“I think Astrid is getting better and better every season. So, it will be really interesting to see what she will do next winter.”
Indeed, the Season X will be a blast, but we still have many months before the new season kicks off. So, it is now time to enjoy the perks of the summer and go out and train long and hard. And next month we will learn more about the new exciting season, the 10th anniversary one. Stay tuned and have a great Easter!