By Teemu Virtanen
In today’s world, it won’t surprise anyone to see a skier double-poling his or her way up to the first mountain at Birkebeinerrennet, or at any Visma Ski Classics event for that matter. Nowadays, almost every male Pro Skier has left his grip wax containers at home when they are heading to Rena, the start town of the most famous ski race in Norway. Even some women are courageous enough to ski the course without a single kick. But this wasn’t the case some years ago.
We all remember how Martin Johnsrud Sundby lost to Petter Eliassen in 2017 when those two broke away from the pack and continued racing neck-and-neck to the finish line. Eliassen had no kick wax while Sundby used diagonal striding whenever possible. This was certainly a turning point, and as Sundby admitted it opened his eyes to see the potential in double-poling as the fastest way of going forward in skiing.
However, Eliassen wasn’t the first one to double-pole the tough Birken course. Jørgen Aukland did it before him, and even in 2011, a tough Italian skier went against all odds and chose to go without kick wax. That Italian hero was Florian Kostner. Around the same time a Finnish master skier Pekka Virtakoivu, a double-poling legend in his country, also managed to ski the course without kicking, and he was at his early 60s at the time.
Let’s find out from Florian Kostner about his decision to use the almighty double-poling technique at Birken as he might well be the first professional skier to do so.
“Back then, it was a crazy idea,” Florian says while recalling his extraordinary endeavor. “I wanted to do something different that day. The weather was really tricky as it was warm down in Rena and cold up on the mountains. Wet tracks down at the start area and icy ones higher up. So, I figured that it was going to be easier to leave the kick wax out.”
That year was the first one for Florian to focus on long distance skiing, and he was still a rookie in the sport. However, he managed to do well as he finished 11th at Marcialonga and Birkebeinerrennet and 9th at Tartu Maraton where he was only a few seconds behind the winner. His best World Cup result was 6th at a 30 km race.
“I was a skating specialist and didn’t train for double-poling,” Florian continues. “It felt really good to ski with the best athletes of the sport, to see the Aukland brothers next to me. I was in the lead group when we reached Sjusjøen, but I got really tired after that. The second best Italian skier was about five minutes behind me. I did really well, and for the following year I trained a lot more but couldn’t really improve. I guess I have to put it down to beginner’s luck!”
When Florian is asked about setting a trend with his great achievement, he takes a moment to think about the question.
“Yes, I think I paved the way for other skiers to follow and encouraged people to believe in themselves. You can do the impossible if you put your mind to it. I just pushed it hard and kept up a high tempo. I wasn’t that strong in my upper body, but I was able to have a high frequency, cadence, in my double-poling. You just have to believe in yourself and go out and do whatever you want to do.”
Indeed, those are some great words of advice. We should keep that in mind when preparing for the upcoming season and getting ready for the challenges that lie ahead.