Proud moments are not always performance based. After leading the Norwegian women’s cross-country team to 47 World Championship and Olympic medals — for a total of 23 gold — over the past 10 years, it was not the results that have meant the most to Egil Kristiansen, the Norwegian national team women’s coach who announced his resignation Sunday via a team press release. It was the pressure he, his athletes, and Norway put on others to push themselves in the sport.
“It’s actually what we have managed to achieve,” Kristiansen told NRK, according to a translation, of his proudest coaching moment during the last decade with the team. “Managing to keep the pressure up, regardless of whether the results are bad or good; to do the damn job one hundred percent anyway. Not being dragged down by a poor outcome, or about to take off for good results. To paint on paint anyway.”
Kristiansen, 50, began heading up the women’s team in 2006, after working as an assistant coach under Svein Tore Samdal. The next 10 years are history.
In 2009, Kristiansen coached the now-retired Kristin Størmer Steira to silver in the women’s 15-kilometer pursuit at World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.
In 2010, he helped Norwegian Marit Bjørgen to her first Olympic gold at the Vancouver Olympics in the women’s classic sprint. She went on to achieve four more medals at those Olympics after that, including two more gold. Prior to Vancouver, Kristiansen worked with Bjørgen for 10 years and would work with her for five more.
“Egil has meant a lot to me,”Bjørgen told VG.no during a press conference, according to a translation. “There has been a security for me to have him there … He’s been a crazy good leader, a manager type that has gathered the group.”
Beyond Bjørgen and Størmer Steira, Kristiansen has worked with numerous other Norwegian superstars, including Olympics or World Championships medalists Therese Johaug, Maiken Caspersen Falla, Heidi Weng, Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Vibeke Skofterud, and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen.
Norway’s “Coach of the Year” in 2011, Kristiansen said he’s ready to move forward and feels the the Norwegian women’s team should as well.
“I feel privileged to have worked with the world’s best cross-country skiers,” Kristiansen told Aftenposten, according to a translation. “But I’ve determined that it’s time to move on. As a coach, it is difficult to always give one’s best to the same group athletes over many years. Therefore, I believe this is the right time to resign, and it will help the athletes receive new inspiration.”
There is no official word as to who will look to replace Kristiansen’s shoes. Women’s sprint coach Roar Hjelmeset has said he’s interested in filling in, but only for a year.
“I‘ve said I want to be national coach a one year period for women. The problem is that they were looking for someone who can train [through the] Olympics in 2018,” Hjelmeset, who first coached national-team juniors in 2008 then the women’s sprint team since 2011, told NRK.
National team director Vidar Løfshus indicated that Kristiansen’s successor must be willing to make a commitment through the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I was prepared that [his decision] could go either way, hoping of course that he would continue,” Løfshus said to Langrenn, according to a translation. “To sum up his time as coach of the national team will be the one long tribute.”
Hetland Takes Over Norway’s Men’s National Team
Kristiansen’s resignation is not the only change in the nexus of Norwegian nordic skiing. Tor-Arne Hetland was hired this spring as the new men’s cross-country coach.
A 2002 Olympic gold-medalist sprinter, Hetland, who competed for Norway, previously worked as a national coach for Germany, Switzerland and Canada before assisting the Norwegian team last season under former men’s coach Trond Nystad.
“Trond has been generous and given me great responsibility allround team this season,” Hetland told Skiforbundet, according to a translation. “I want to continue a culture where athletes together take responsibility for their own training and development. Created to be the best trained and set a standard that new generations of skiers want to strive for. I look forward to continue working with the team and with the rest of the support develop each athlete so that they can bring out their maximum potential.”
Nystad, 45, had been the head coach for the men since 2011, working with his twin brother Knut Nystad, Norway’s head wax technician. Trond had previously coached the U.S. and Swiss teams.
Nystad’s contract with the team ends May 31. Earlier this month, he dispelled rumors that he would advise Russia’s Alexander Legkov this winter. Rather, after spending what he estimated to be nearly 250 days on the road in the last five years, Nystad wanted to focus on being a dad.
“Nothing is certain, nothing is excluded, but in relation to their family situation is probably not wise to continue with 240-250 days of travel,” he told NRK. “But I still want to work with sport.”