Therese Johaug started cracking up when reporters at Friday’s International Ski Federation (FIS) race in Beitostølen, Norway, showed her a photo of herself and Marit Bjørgen from eight years ago, also in Beitostølen.
The Norwegian national-team member was 18 at the time.
“Oye … a lot has happened since then,” Johaug told NRK with a laugh. Now they’re not only best friends, they’re each other’s fiercest competitors.
On Friday, Johaug, 26, won the 10-kilometer classic in 26:36.1 minutes, 24.7 seconds ahead of Bjørgen in second. Like fellow Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby, she won last season’s Tour de Ski as well as the overall World Cup title.
Six years ago, she was a junior competing in Beitostølen for the first time. She told reporters she had the same photo hanging on her wall at home.
Now she’s won the Beito distance opener for three consecutive years. Last year, Bjørgen didn’t compete; Johaug beat another teammate —Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen — by more than 54 seconds for the win. In 2012, Johaug topped Bjørgen by 52.2 seconds. This was her fourth-straight time winning Beito’s 10 k classic, according to VG.
On Friday, Bjørgen led through 2 k, 2.7 seconds ahead of Johaug. By 6 k, Johaug took hold with a 5.3-second lead over Bjørgen and stayed in front to secure the first win of the season.
“It felt good; I managed to calm myself down and think, time and power,” Johaug told NRK, according to a translation. “It was fun to get it when I have worked so much this fall and along.”
“We have talked a lot about calming down … and trust that I’m fast enough, rather than skiing with my shoulders at the ear level and increasing the turnover. That doesn’t make you fast.” — Therese Johaug, after winning Friday’s 10 k classic FIS race in Beitostølen
Since last season, she’s been working on her upper-body strength and spent long hours in the weight room and on the rollerski treadmill, she told VG. She also credited her psychologist, Britt Tajet-Foxell, for helping her progress.
“[The training] is paying off, and that’s really fun,” she said, according to a direct translation. “We have talked a lot about calming down and taking time to complete each kick and each pole plant, and trust that I’m fast enough, rather than skiing with my shoulders at the ear level and increasing the turnover. That doesn’t make you fast. Today I felt like I managed to do that, and that I was rewarded all the way.”
“Today, Therese was impossible to beat,” Bjørgen told VG.
As for how she felt: “It hurt, but that is somewhat expected,” Bjørgen said to NRK, adding that she felt normal, like in recent years.
“It’s not just anyone I measure myself against, so I know what I did today is good,” she told NRK.
“Next weekend it can be turned upside down,” Norwegian women’s coach Egil Kristiansen said. “Therese skied great today.”
Norway’s Heidi Weng took third, 44.8 seconds behind Johaug and 20 seconds back from Bjørgen. Germany’s Stefanie Böhler placed fourth and Martine Ek Hagen of Norway was fifth.
Rounding out the top 10, Katerina Smutna (Austria) was sixth, Claudia Nystad (Germany) finished seventh, Barbro Kvåle (Norway) emerged in eighth, Victoria Carl (Germany) was ninth, and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes (Norway) took 10th.
Jacobsen finished 14th.
“I’m not in good shape,” she told NRK. “It was hard all the way, and I feel half-empty. … There is a way to go forward; I know that it is there.”
Racing continues with 10/15 k freestyle races on Saturday and a classic sprint on Sunday.
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.