By Johan Trygg
Winning Marcialonga was a dream come true for Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes, Team Koteng.
“It's not every day you win a ski race. I can't even remember when I won last time,” says Kari. Her victory last Sunday has made her the strongest favorite in the women's competition come Toblach-Cortina this Saturday.
The 35 year-old Norwegian has a background as a World Cup skier for many years. Back in 2005, Kari won gold in the sprint competition at the Junior World Championships. She then was in and out of the Norwegian National Team in the World Cup circuit, with her best results in sprint races. At the World Championships in Falun in 2015, she was in the final and finished in 5th place.
Why did you leave the traditional skiing and started focusing on Visma Ski Classics races?
“It's hard to be a traditional skier in Norway and try to get selected for World Cup races. I got tired of performing every weekend and then wait for a phone call on Monday morning,” says Kari.
“Now, as a long-distance skier I know which races I will go to. It's much easier to plan the training and everything else.”
Kari tried some Visma Ski Classics races in 2017 and was close to winning Årefjällsloppet. She was in the lead for a long time, with kick wax on her skis, but was passed by Britta Johansson Norgren and Katerina Smutná just before the finish.
After that, she has done many good races and been on the podium three times. In season VIII. she was third at Sgambeda and Ylläs-Levi. Season IX, last winter, she was second at La Diagonala, just a couple of seconds behind Smutná.
This Sunday she got her first victory when she won the prestigious Marcialonga, beating her teammate Astrid Øyre Slind by 7 seconds.
“It was a dream come true. But my main goal this season has been to win a race. This Sunday, I was in great shape and we had amazing skis. And I've always known that Marcialonga is a race that suits me well.”
How have the days been after the victory?
“It's been pretty much as it has always been after a hard race but of course, I have also received many congratulations and a lot of attention.”
How will you keep the good form for the rest of the season?
“It's mostly easy training between races now. Today we went on a nice three-hour tour here in Toblach starting just outside the hotel. But after Jizerska, I will go back to Norway and train harder before Vasaloppet.”
In everyday life, Kari doesn't train with her teammates as she lives in Oslo and the others in Trondheim, almost 500 km north of the Norwegian capital.
“Mostly, I train by myself when I'm at home, but sometimes I train with some of the athletes in the National Team who also live in Oslo.”
At the beginning of the interview, Kari said that she couldn't remember the time when she last won a ski race. That's not entirely true. She remembers, of course, that she won the Challengers race Gautefallrennet on roller-skis this summer. In the 60 km long race, she won almost five minutes ahead of Lina Korsgren.
But that race wasn't on snow! Is she going to continue her amazing streak of top performances this Saturday - she has been on the podium in every race except Kaiser Maximilian Lauf ? That remains to be seen!