Lately, life is looking a little different for Marit Bjørgen, Norway’s most decorated female cross-country skier. The six-time Olympic gold medalist and 14-time world champion is due to have her first child in December. While Bjørgen, 35, won’t officially be a mom until then, if you ask her teammates, she’s already filled the role.
Heidi Weng grew up watching Bjørgen. Now 24, Weng as one of the most competitive women on Norway’s national team is hoping to make the next leap in the overall World Cup standings without Bjørgen to contend with.
“I’ve learned from a lot of people, but I think I’ve learned the most from Marit,” Weng told the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in August. Weng finished third overall last season; Bjørgen won the 2015/2016 World Cup outright and their teammate Therese Johaug placed second.
“Heidi has always been very close to Marit Bjørgen. Bjørgen is like a mom to her,” Weng’s mother, May Bente Weng, said.
“I think it’s like that for a lot of us on the team,” Weng explained. “[Marit] is the one who has been in the game the longest, and she has solid routines for everything. She is very confident. It’s not just me saying this, most of us think that.”
Like most of her teammates, Weng has learned from Bjørgen by chasing her in workouts and mimicking her technique.
“Technically, I’ve become a much better skier. Skiing behind her has helped me a lot,” said Weng, who’s focusing on the Tour de Ski in January and the Canadian World Cup tour in March.
Meanwhile, Bjørgen, headed into her third trimester of pregnancy, has backed off the hard workouts and, according to Aftenposten, plans to join a few more camps before easing off more.
“I think we’ll do fine without her,” Weng said. “It’s not like we lose her. But it will be strange that she’s not there on all the workouts and that she wont be winning all the races.”
But she will be back — with 2017 World Championships as her main target — and plans to compete again as soon as 10 weeks after giving birth.
“I hope to be back as early as March,” Bjørgen told NRK last week during a team camp in Livigno, Italy.
“I think it certainly is possible, but it is difficult to say in advance,” she said more specifically of her return to racing in that time. “I am in very good shape, and I don’t think it will mean much losing three months of training.”
She’ll focus on racing closer to home first, which means the Tour of Canada is probably out. Bjørgen told NRK she thought it was a “shame” to have the final World Cup races in Canada.
“It could instead be in Holmenkollen, Falun and Lahti in March, but that’s not the case this year,” she said, according to a translation. “To travel to Canada with a little one … I will probably be back in Norway.”
She added that it’s tough to prepare for the unknown.
“I’m going into something completely new,” she said. “Getting a small child means a new life. It changes a lot. But I have a plan to get back to the World Championships in Lahti.”