2020/21 International Retirement Roundup

Ella HallApril 21, 2021

After an unusual and unprecedented season, many athletes have announced their retirement as they move on from professional ski racing. Aside from the three notable retirements from the U.S. Ski Team, Sadie Maubet-Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell-Hamilton, and Simi Hamilton, twelve international athletes have said goodbye to World Cup competitions. 

Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby racing to 2017 victory in the men’s 15 k classic at the pre-World Championships World Cup in Otepää, Estonia. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Perhaps the biggest name among them is Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway, who after a somewhat inauspicious start to his World Cup career in 2005 when he DNF’d at the Oslo 50 k, went on to become a staple of men’s cross-country skiing. Sundby leaves the stage with five Olympic medals, including two gold medals (both from team events), four Championship medals, and thirty World Cup victories to his name. Results aside, Sundby was an important presence on the Norwegian men’s team for many years, taking on the responsibility of team captain.

Sundby was sanctioned in 2016 for an anti-doping violation when he exceeding the allowable amount of salbutamol – an asthma medication – in his system.


Putting his veteran strength on display, Martin Johnsrud Sundby skis to 7th in his first international competition of the [2020/21] season. (Photo: NordicFocus)
In a goodbye letter by Norges Skiforbund President, Erik Røste, Røste writes, “Martin never gave up [in spite of challenges]. And that’s what really characterizes Martin. Because in addition to a fantastic talent, Martin is a struggler. One who has put in more effort and training than most to achieve his dream of becoming the best in the world… Thank you for all the contributions both on and off the trail.” (Translated from Norwegian). 

Also retiring from team Norway is Mari Eide, who is expecting a child. Eide made her World Cup debut in 2010 and contested 70 World Cup starts since that time. At the 2019 Seefeld World Championships, Eide earned a bronze medal, finishing third in the skate sprint. 

Viktor Thorn (SWE) racing the individual sprint in Ulricehamn, Sweden (Photo: NordicFocus)

From Sweden, Viktor Thorn and Hanna Falk have both announced an end to their ski careers. While Thorn is only 24 years old, he has been struggling with ongoing back pain and thus decided to step away from the sport. In a statement Thorn said, “I have struggled with back problems for almost five years and have come to the stage that I feel it is no longer worth spending all the time it takes to be able to be in the absolute elite level, when the last percent to be able to perform at the level I want to be hindered by my back … I feel ready to take on new challenges in life. A tough decision as the skis have been a big part of my life for so long, this decision still feels right. I am grateful for everything that this sport has given me and I will always be a skier but just not at the elite level anymore.” 

Sweden’s Hanna Falk (r) smiles as she wins the fourth World Cup race of her career and first race in Falun, Sweden, with a victory in the women’s freestyle sprint at 2018 World Cup Finals. (Photo: Svenska Skidspelen/Instagram)

Hanna Falk, who has also struggled with health problems throughout her career, announced retirement after a lengthy career. Falk began World Cup racing in 2007 and earned her first victory in 2009 at the Düsseldorf (GER) City Sprints. After a period of health issues, Falk returned in form during the 2016/17 season, proving herself to be a force on the sprint circuit. She retires with 113 World Cup starts, including eleven podium finishes. 

American Simi Hamilton (l) goes head-to-head with Germany’s Sebastian Eisenlauer (14), Norway’s Eivind Østnor Bakken (26), and Sweden’s Gustav Nordström (13) during their 1.2 k freestyle sprint quarterfinal on Saturday at the World Cup in Planica, Slovenia. (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

From Germany, 31-year old Sebastian Eisenlauer has announced his intention to move on from professional ski racing. Eisenlauer began his World Cup career in 2010, going on to start 131 World Cups and represent Germany at two Olympics (Sochi and PyeongChang). Of his career, Eisenlauer said, “That’s it. An incredible time comes to an end and it feels like the right time to move along new paths. Every race was worth the step from every stage of my career, I find people that I can call friends now still. Thank you to everyone who joined and supported me on this journey.” 

Finland’s Susanna Saapunki has decided to transition from professional ski racing to professional mountain running. Saapunki spent six years racing on the World Cup circuit, totalling 42 World Cup starts and one World Championship start in Lahti, Finland. Saapunki has now chosen to focus solely on running. 

Anna Zherebyateva of Russia is concluding her World Cup career. Zherebyateva is engaged to Alexander Bolshunov and intends to focus on starting a family. 

Anouk Faivre Picon of France has officially announced retirement after some years away from the World Cup circuit in which she primarily started in marathon events. Faivre Picon spent a summer training with the US Women’s Ski Team. 

Also on the list of retirements this season are Livio Bieler and Anja Lozza of Switzerland, Stefan Zelger of Italy, and Valentin Mättig of Germany. 

Ella Hall

Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.

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