U.S. racers and fans got to see Norwegian living legend Bjørn Dæhlie in action at the 2009 American Birkebeiner, where he finished second to CXC’s Gus Kaeding in the classic marathon.
But if Dæhlie returns to Wisconsin next year, the outcome likely wouldn’t be the same. The eight-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time World Champion, frequently called the greatest skier of all time, announced in a press conference that he will begin training again with Team Xtra Personell, a Norwegian marathon team whose roster includes Anders and Jørgen Aukland and Jerry Ahrlin.
Dæhlie retired in 2001 due to back problems and hadn’t been training since that time, focusing instead on business and real estate and amassing a small fortune for himself. He also kept busy working with a nonprofit foundation against multiple sclerosis, an disease which sickened his mother for many years (his trip to the American Birkebeiner was a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society). For fun, he won the downhill portion of the Kicksled World Championships held in southeastern Norway in 2011.
Dæhlie’s involvement with the Xtra Personell is at least half a business venture: the apparel company which shares his name will be sponsoring the team. But he said that he would be training with the skiers as well.
“I will be clothing supplier for the team, that is one thing,” Dæhlie said on Monday. “And so I want to help out a little, too. I’ll show the guys my most toughest interval hills, they should be challenged a bit there.”
While he was careful to say that he wasn’t aiming for any podiums, he confirmed that he will focus on marathons and long distances.
“I have to be able to hang on to Anders and the guys in a few training sessions before I could even think of going to the starting line again,” Dæhlie said in the press conference.
For Team Xtra Personell, getting Dæhlie to sign on was a coup. While the skiers’ results speak for themselves and the team already has plenty of good publicity, it adds a bit of cachet to their name. And they are hoping that isn’t all the 44-year-old great can offer.
“For us, this means: we are back to the 2008 season when we started the team with Bjorn,” the team wrote on their blog. “And, with the Bear, we can increase our capabilities and the winning instinct of our team. We will have the world’s best long-gliding strides!”
The Norwegian press, and indeed the whole country, is already going nuts over Dæhlie’s announcement. Petter Northug, who has said for several months that he will focus on the Vasaloppet next season, hopes to meet Dæhlie on the tracks there. Former national team coach Carl Henning Gran has weighed in on how many hours he thinks Dæhlie has to train (it’s 50 per month).
But the real question remains: what does Thomas Alsgaard think? The 39-year-old, who was Daehli’s foil and rival for many years, took third place in the 15 k classic race at Norwegian national championships in 2011. It looks as if the dueling Norwegians of the ’90s will be battling it out once again a decade later.