Coming off the 2016/2017 season and less than a year out from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, several international cross-country skiers and biathletes have announced their retirements. Among them are Sweden’s Johan Olsson, Finland’s Sami Jauhojärvi and the Czech Republic’s Lukáš Bauer, all of which earned medals at Olympics and/or World Championships.
Earlier this month, Jauhojärvi, 35, publicly stated that he would be hanging up his race skis, ending his season with a third-place finish in the 50-kilometer freestyle at Finnish nationals.
Jauhojärvi, who turns 36 in early May, competed at eight World Championships and three Olympics, winning gold with teammate Iivo Niskanen in the men’s classic team sprint at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He started racing World Cups 16 years ago, served on the athletes’ commission for the International Ski Federation (FIS) from 2009 to 2013 and racked up three bronze medals at World Championships. His latest bronze came in the classic team sprint (again with Niskanen) at this year’s 2017 World Championships at home in Lahti, Finland.
“I’m not tired of skiing, but at some point it just happens that competitive instincts begin to fade,” Jauhojärvi told InsideTheGames. “By training I could be pushing my limits for a few more years, but my competition mind is done. … I do not think any more about fighting for gold medals at future Olympics.”
Sweden’s 37-year-old Olsson, who has also spent the last 16 years on the circuit, is also calling it a career, according to FIS. He amassed 14 world championships-caliber medals (eight at World Championships medals and six at the Olympics), making him one of the most successful Swedish skiers of all time, behind Gunde Svan and Sixten Jernberg, who each tallied 17.
Four of Olsson’s medals were gold: he was part of the Swedish men’s 4 x 10 k relay that won at both the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., and 2014 Sochi Games. Individually, he won the 50 k classic mass start at 2013 World Championships and 15 k freestyle individual start at 2015 World Championships on home soil in Falun, Sweden.
Olsson cited wanting to be more present for his family, which includes his two daughters (ages 5 and 2).
“I have had an ambition to become the world’s best skier and have had the consequences for it,” he told Expressen, according to a loose translation. “… When that burden grows bigger than the joy to keep on, it’s time to stop.
“I have spent 15 years trying to realize my sporting dreams,” he explained. “Now I will be able to realize completely different dreams, and I will be able to be a much more present dad.”
Olsson has been working with Swedish public television, SVT, and has expressed his desire to stay involved with skiing to build interest in the sport.
“The question is how to make me on television,” he said of his TV career. “My paradise at the end of a race has been to stand in the interview zone and chat most of all, even though I finished 35th. Would there be enough time on television?”
Before the start of this past season, Bauer, 39, publicly stated it would be his last. But the decision became solidified after he finished 19th in the 15 k classic at 2017 Lahti World Championships.
“A result that has disappointed me, after which I spent two and a half hours in the rain reminiscing of it,” he said, according to Neveitalia. “On other occasions I would have said, ‘I can redeem myself the next time,’ but not in this case because I just decided to quit.”
He finished the season and his career out in the Lahti 4 x 10 k relay, in which the Czech men’s team placed 11th.
The Czech Republic’s most successful cross-country skier, Bauer was the 2007/2008 Overall World Cup champion. He competed at five Olympics and 11 World Championships over 19 World Cup seasons, winning 18 World Cup races and the Tour de Ski twice, in 2008 and 2010. At the Olympics, he has a silver and two bronze medals. At World Championships, he is a two-time individual silver medalist — most recently placing second at 2015 Falun worlds in the 50 k classic mass start.
Like Olsson, he also has two children.
“I do not retire for a matter purely tied to my performance,” Bauer said. “If I wanted to prepare myself and I would be honored to participate in the upcoming Olympic Games, but the reality is I do not care. At home I have a wife and two children. It’s time to concentrate more on them than on sports goals. Without their support, I would never have obtained anything I collected in my career, to which I look with pride and satisfaction.”
But he’s not completely done with skiing and plans to continue racing marathons.
“Now I will focus on managing my team [Team Pioneer Investments] in long-distance races and I will also try to compete as much as possible, as long as the doctor will allow me,” Bauer said.
Sweden’s Martin Johansson, 32, is leaving elite skiing as a national A-team member who transitioned to cross-country in 2010. The move came after he won two gold medals at orienteering World Championships in 2009, but was seriously injured when he was impaled by a branch, according to Nordic Magazine. In six seasons thereafter, his career best in cross-country was fifth place in a 10 k freestyle in 2015 in Kuusamo, Finland, and he finished this year with a third-place finish in the 50 k freestyle at Swedish nationals, after which he announced his retirement on social media. Johansson competed at the last two World Championships.
Fanny Horn Birkeland
Norwegian biathlete Fanny Horn Birkeland announced her retirement during the last International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup weekend of the season. At 29, she has competed at the sport’s highest level for the last seven years, been on more than half a dozen winning relay teams, and won a 2015 World Cup sprint in Ruhpolding, Germany.
“My plan was to go until the Olympics next year, but my form has not been so good,” Birkeland told the IBU. “I did everything to reach my goals, but still I had some trouble to make it to the top in my competitions. It is hard to put so much work into it every day and not get any results that I want. Twenty-nine is not so old, but I have been in this game for some time and it feels right now.
“The highlight of my career was my win in the Ruhpolding sprint in 2015,” she added. “It was unreal … that was my day to get the opportunity to be on top of the podium. I wanted to do it again, but I never managed it.”
Her husband, Lars Birkeland, also competes for the Norwegian biathlon team. “We helped each other a lot to get where we are now,” she said.
Romania’s Éva Tófalvi, 38, is also moving on from her career as a World Cup biathlete after competing at five Olympics, where her best result was 11th in a 15 k individual race at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. She won an individual World Cup race during the 2008/2009 season after originally placing second (the winner, Russia’s Albina Akhatova, was disqualified for doping), making her the first Romanian biathlete to win a World Cup.
In an interview with the IBU, Tófalvi said she wanted to wanted to focus on her personal life.
“I am not a 100 percent sure, but I feel like it is the moment to settle down and start a family,” she said. “I know the Olympics are behind the corner, but I do not think I can invest the energy which is needed for such an event.
“Winning World Cup is probably the most incredible memory I will ever carry,” she continued. “It is not just because of the win, but the work I know I had to put to get it. Even back then I did not have a real team behind me. My skis were not as good and I had no doctors, trainers and coaches with me like it was for bigger teams, like Norway. Winning in Hochfilzen was really special because of that, because it felt like a good prize for having had to work double as much as most to make up for what I couldn’t have.”
Despite being left-handed, she had to learn to shoot using her right hand because Romania only had right-handed rifles.
“In 20 years so much has changed in biathlon,” she said. “Now everything is much more professional and everyone is more focused on their careers. I think we were taking everything more lightheartedly back then. I now see girls that were born around the years I was making my debut in he World Cup, and they are so determined that they achieve what before we would do at a much older age.”