Note: This article has been updated to include Kristin Størmer Steira’s most recent athletic accomplishment as 10,000-meter champion at Norwegian Athletics Championships on Sunday. It was her first time running the 10,000, according to VG.
If you asked Kristin Størmer Steira about the ‘R’ word six months ago, the Norwegian national-team member might’ve told you she was considering it.
A not-so-hot start to her third Olympics had left the then-32-year-old Steira contemplating retirement. Never before had she been outside the top 10 at the Olympics, and in two previous 15-kilometer skiathlons at back-to-back Olympic Games, she placed fourth.
But in Sochi, she was 23rd — not bad, but not to her standards.
Her next chance came in the 30 k freestyle mass start, the final race of the Sochi Games.
In a seemingly seamless race for three Norwegians, Steira placed third behind her two teammates Marit Bjørgen and Therese Johaug, respectively. It was her first Olympic medal in eight individual starts.
“My Olympics went from the worst competition I’ve ever had to maybe the best,” Steira said on the phone from Norway earlier this summer. “It was a special Olympics for sure.”
Before the races began, her team had to cope with the sudden passing of teammate Astrid Jacobsen’s brother, a skier whom many of the national-team members were close with.
“It was a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions,” Steira recalled. “We had a rough time in our team … but in the end, to have a medal in the 30 k … I really, really felt that I worked hard for that and to be able to do it when it counts was a great feeling.”
She also had the unique experience of standing on the podium at the closing ceremony in front of 40,000 spectators and millions more who watched on TV.
“It was maybe the best day for being on the podium,” Steira said. “You felt kind of small getting up on stage with the crowd and the stadium. I’ll never experience [that] again.”
One might ask, why not? With four individual World Championships podiums and 22 World Cup podiums in the last 12 years, and after placing second in the rollerski hill climb at the Blink Festival in Norway earlier this month, how does she know when it’ll be over?
She doesn’t, but she was thinking about it after Sochi.
“I was more towards not doing another year and I guess the medal in the 30 k both made me kind of feel [like] I could stop skiing — I managed to do what I planned to do: have a medal individually in the Olympics,” she said. “On the other side, it also makes you so motivated to do another year. I guess when I was thinking about it, it counted both ways.”
“I want to learn something other than classic and skating and technique, to put my mind a bit on other stuff and also start preparing for the next step — whatever that will be.” — Kristin Størmer Steira, Norwegian national-team member & three-time Olympian
So here she is, 33 and revving up for the 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden.
“It’s close to Norway,” she said of her decision to focus on Falun and race for another season. “I think it will be amazing [at World Championships] … a lot of people, but I guess in the end mostly the motivation was still there and I love skiing and I wanted to give it one more year, mostly because it was so fun.”
In late April, she got sick during a three-week excursion in the Himalayas. She left Kathmandu with a ring on her finger, thanks to fiancé Devon Kershaw, but it took her some time to shake the parasite she contracted on her way up the 6,476-meter (21,000-foot) Mera Peak.
“Early summer was not quite as planned … I still struggled to recover after illness in Nepal,” she wrote on her blog.
After spending some time with family, “hiking, swimming, grilling,” she worked back into her full-training load before Blink and her team’s training camps in August.
Steira missed the women’s team’s June camp in Hemsedal because she wasn’t fully recovered, but was back with them in Lillehammer earlier this month. She said they planned to train in Italy in late August-early September, and will be back in Norway in October.
“We normally have been in Italy in the last week of June-first week of July, but since worlds is not at altitude we decided not to,” she said of the altitude camp.
On Sunday, she ran the 10,000-meter distance event at Norwegian Athletics Championships and won it by a minute and 46 seconds. Norway’s VG asked Athletics Association Director Ronny Nilsen whether that was embarrassing for the sport.
“No, it is not,” he said, according to a translation. “Kristin is strong, and there were several good runners that were missing at the starting line.”
Steira said “it was a pity” that so many top runners didn’t start, but it wasn’t embarrassing. She simply dropped the pack early.
“Ten-thousand [meters] is a distance that suits a skier well,” she told VG. “But athletes certainly wish there were more people to compete with.”
After the race, she tweeted that she was celebrating her 10,000-meter debut with coffee.
“Ten-thousand [meters] is a distance that suits a skier well.” — Steira on her 10,000-meter win in her debut at Norwegian Athletics Championships
Back to Skiing
Looking ahead to Falun, Steira couldn’t say exactly what was next — except for no more Olympics.
“I do not have a long-term plan for my skiing, but I learned from my earlier mistakes saying this is my last year,” she said. “But I don’t think longer than Falun this year of skiing, then we’ll see. It’s a pretty sweet life so it’s hard to stop doing the thing you love the most. I’m getting older and it’s other things I want to do and have a family and stuff so we’ll see. I will not take another Olympic year, that’s for sure.”
She has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and is starting an MBA program this fall.
“I’m going part time back to school this year mostly because I feel it’s time,” she said. “I want to learn something other than classic and skating and technique, to put my mind a bit on other stuff and also start preparing for the next step — whatever that will be, I’m not sure.”
Her focus will be human resources: mostly concerning personal relationships and working in teams.
“I’m still hoping that Oslo will get the Olympics for 2022, so maybe I’ll get some work for that,” she said. “That could be interesting.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.