You’ve probably heard the news by now: Marit Bjørgen, the Norwegian queen of cross-country skiing, has decided to retire. The 38 year old made the announcement a week ago after winning the first race of Norwegian nationals, the 5-kilometer classic, on April 6.
“In reality it has been a long process,” she told NRK that day, according to a translation. “I had almost decided before the competitive season started. I feel that I lack the motivation and desire required to be right there in the top. I also have a little boy at at home, who is beginning to understand more and more, that I’d like to spend time with. That time I can never have again. It’s also a little frightening. This is been half of my life. This is emotional.”
The most decorated Winter Olympian of all time across all sports with 15 medals, five of which came at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang (two golds, a silver, and two bronze), Bjørgen closed her season on Saturday, April 7 with a second-place finish behind teammate Ragnhild Haga in the national 30 k freestyle in Alta, Norway.
In all, Bjørgen accumulated 114 individual World Cup wins, 184 World Cup podiums, 18 World Championship gold medals (and 26 total at world champs), and eight Olympic golds in five Olympics, according to an International Ski Federation (FIS) press release.
“I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in my career, but I’ve also been privileged to have been able to win top-level sports,” Bjørgen said in Norwegian team press release. “I am very much thankful to amazing team friends, teammates, coaches, medical team, service team, managers and the whole support crew that have been around me. You have a great deal of credit for my results.”
Norway’s head coach Vidar Løfshus described Bjørgen as a “team captain” who was “always there for the girls,” according to an interview with NRK.
He added that she was also a valuable coaching consult.
“For me, she’s been a good sparring partner; when tough things happening internally, I often call Marit,” Løfshus said, according to a translation. “Now there will be one less coach in my team. There are a lot of good coaches in the association, but … [none that have] won so many medals. She knows more about cross country skiing then I do, Sju, Ole and Roar combined, almost.
“We can’t let a woman like that disappeared through the back door,” he said of his desire to keep Bjørgen involved with the team. “But now we’re gonna let her exhale and enjoy her time with [her son] Marius and [partner] Fred Børre. She has not had enough time for that. And after that I know she will contribute again.”
Bjørgen shared emotional moments with her teammates at nationals.
“She has been a role model to me for many many years,” Ingvild Flugstad Østberg told NRK.
“One day has to be the last,” Heidi Weng said. “We’ve had a lot of fun with Marit. She’s a legend. She has been the security blanket and the mother in the team. It’s frustrating not to have mommy at the starting line, someone to joke around with and calm your nerves. Someone who is supportive.”
Who else is on our list of notable cross-country retirements so far? (For our biathlon list, which should also include the additions of Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen and Emil Hegle Svendsen, click here.)
From the U.S., we have U.S. Ski Team members Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen, who said ‘so long’ to international racing, while another team veteran Andy Newell told FasterSkier that he plans to continue racing, but apart from the national team and likely outside of the World Cup circuit.
Former national-team members Noah Hoffman and Kris Freeman have also announced their retirements from professional skiing. On the domestic side, Annie Hart has stated this was the last season of her ski career as she plans to begin law school.
There has been talk of a few of Canada’s World Cup Team members retiring, but the only one FasterSkier has confirmed so far is Graeme Killick.
Zina Kocher, a 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympic biathlete who came out of retirement to make a bid for the 2018 Olympics in cross-country skiing, has stated that it’s really over this time after her comeback season.
“As I reflect on the last 16 years that I trained full-time and competed at an international level I’m flooded with a lot of memories,” Kocher, 35, wrote in a blog post last week. “If someone had told me when I started biathlon in ’98 that I would be a ‘lifer’ (aka someone who does the sport & can’t give it up till they’re an old veteran in their 30’s), I would have laughed and said ‘yea right’. But here I am, finally saying goodbye!”
Michael Somppi, of the Alberta World Cup Academy, is also retiring after 16 years of competitive skiing. Somppi, 29, a former member of Canada’s senior development team, won three national titles and World Cup start rights as Canada’s NorAm overall leader at the end of the 2014/2015 season.
“I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to in my ski career, but I am really proud of all that I did accomplish,” Somppi wrote in a blog post on Sunday. “I feel I got all I could out of myself given the circumstances I faced and the system I worked in. Thinking back to when I started out ski racing in high school, I am amazed how far I’ve come. ‘Started at the bottom, now we here!’ I picked up racing late and was never the most talented. I worked hard with extreme motivation and focus to become one of the top skiers in Canada.”
“One of the highlights of my career was certainly the team sprint with my brother Dario at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi,” Gianluca wrote in a Facebook post announcing his retirement, according to a translation. “We reached the 5th place and could take home an [Olympic] diploma. It was not only a highlight because of the 5th rank, but also because our parents were there to witness it live. I never dreamed of anything like that when I was a little boy.”
The Swedish team is seeing the exit of Anna Haag, Emil Jönsson and Martin Johansson. Haag, 31, won gold with the Swedish women’s relay at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and has four medals from the last three Olympics. Jönsson, 32, Haag’s longtime partner and an internationally renowned sprinter, earned two Olympic bronze medals in 2014.
From Finland, four-time World Championships gold medalist Aino-Kaisa Saarinen is stepping away from competitive skiing at age 39.
“I have done this 20 years, what I really wanted, and I have raced my goals and even more,” Saarinen told FasterSkier after the last race of World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden. “This skiing family is the thing what I’m going to miss the most, and of course, I love the competitions. I don’t know any other job where you can feel so high and so low, so, maybe those are the feelings right now, what I’m going to really miss the most.”
Poland’s 35-year-old Justyna Kowalczyk, a two-time Olympic champion and two-time World Champion, has announced her retirement as well.
Then there’s Aurore Jean, 32, who became the second French woman to reach the cross-country World Cup podium with a second-place skate-sprint finish in 2013.
And last but not least (for now), we have heard news of Russia’s Alexander Legkov — the controversial 2014 Olympic champion who was not allowed to compete at this year’s Games because of Russia’s systematic doping in Sochi — officially retiring.
“You have all been with me in the course of many years of my professional career and I truly love you all,” the 35-year-old Legkov said at a sports tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, on April 6, according to the Russian News Agency. “… I will see all of you later, not at international tournaments, but perhaps at domestic tournaments or marathon. I am announcing the end of my international sports career.”
At the Sochi Games, Legkov won the 50 k freestyle mass start and took bronze with his teammates his the men’s 4 x 10 k relay. He ended his ski-racing career on March 3 in Rybinsk, Russia, where he placed fourth in the 50 k freestyle Demino Skimarathon.
Stay tuned for more retirement announcements as they are made public.