NORWAY – The Norwegian cross-country community is acknowledging that retaining young female talent is a huge challenge.
During the Beitostolen races on November 12 to 14, there were only a couple dozen Norwegian female skiers on the start list. For the Saturday sprint race, there were only 21 Norwegian women in the mix. In comparison, Saturday’s 7.5K biathlon sprint race featured 39 Norwegian females.
“This is an incredibly scary trend,” said Steinar Mundal, who argues that there is reason to be alarmed.
“In the whole state of Buskerud, there is only one female senior racer left,” Mundal noted.
Emil Søbak Gundersen, the manager of the private cross-country elite development project Team Norgeshus, is concerned about the trend, and argued that the biathlon association takes better care of their recruits.
“There were far more female biathletes on the start lists this weekend. The junior girls have always been welcome at the season opener, even the younger juniors. The level in cross-country is not as good,” Gundersen said.
Roger Grubben is the primary force in the rapidly growing female training community in Sirdal, Norway. Grubben explained that the clubs have actively focused on the female biathletes, and are seeing the results of their efforts now.
“Every day, [retired Olympic medalist] Linda Grubben joins the girls for their practice, and she sticks around the range as a sort of coach. Additionally, we try to create a social environment where the girls thrive – a place where they can be around their friends outside the arena as well, and where they can focus on their education on top of their biathlon careers,” Grubben said.
“I observe that girls feel a bigger pressure to not stick out. They have a more pronounced need for the social aspect of the sport, and are generally more interested in pursuing their education,” he added.
Grubben argues that the critical time is right after the athletes graduate from high school.
“We work closely with the top eight racers, whom we offer a weekly training program, also after they graduate from high school,” Grubben said.
“It is particularly important to take good care of the (female) athletes as they enter their early 20s. Once they graduate from high school, a lot of the racers lose their structured training environment,” he concluded.
From Strafferunden.no, November 17, 2010. By Ola Jordheim Halvorsen, translation by Inge Scheve.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.