RacingWorld CupA full-circle moment, Johaug wins the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen, exactly 11 years after her first individual World Championship gold; Brennan leads the US in 7th

Rachel PerkinsMarch 5, 2022
Crowds line the storied tracks at Holmenkollen during the women’s 30 k classic. (Photo: NordicFocus)

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Terese Johaug wins her first individual World Championship gold medal in the 30 k mass start skate in Oslo, NOR. (Photo: FS Archives)

Eleven years ago to the day, racing the 30-kilometer mass start skate, a 22-year-old Therese Johaug won her first individual World Championship gold medal in a breakout performance at Holmenkollen near her home in Oslo, NOR. In doing so, she had broken apart a field of women considered legends of the sport on an equally legendary course known for long grinding climbs that require superior fitness and technique. Johaug won by nearly 45 seconds over one of the greatest cross country skiers of all time, her teammate Marit Bjørgen, and was 1:34 ahead of the Polish champion Justyna Kowalczyk. 

“It was hard for me. It’s hard to see her go in front, and the gap [grow] bigger and bigger,” said Bjørgen that day. Then at the peak of her career, Bjørgen had gone four-for-four that week with gold medals in each of the previous World Championship races in Oslo, and the upset was a shock to those following along. “But I’m very happy for Therese. She is a young girl, and a girl for the future—and for Norway.”

Little did cross country ski fans know just how storied the athlete’s career would be.

Therese Johaug races in front of a home crowd during the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Today, under clear skies that allowed for views of the city skyline and Oslofjord, Norwegian flags flying, and fans returning to the crowded stadium and partying in the woods, she did it again, as one of her final performances after more than a decade as the top female distance skiers of all time. 

And what’s more, Johaug won today’s 30 k classic in the same dominant fashion that she did eleven years ago, and has done many time since, stopping the clock at 1:19:22.8.

Though the final results show just 19.4 seconds as her winning margin, this only tells part of the story. By 10 k, Johaug held a margin of over 23 seconds, which she steadily grew over the subsequent laps. At 25 k, she led by nearly a minute and a half.

Therese Johaug waves Norwegian flags as she skis the final meters of 30 k classic at Holmenkollen. (Photo: NordicFocus)

As she entered the stadium, Johaug was greeted by coaches and techs who handed her a flag for each hand, which she carried through the finish, waving, and stopping to take in the erupting cheers from the crowds. 

Laughing behind tears as the rest of the field began to trickle across the line, Johaug was hoisted onto shoulders, waving her flags for a loud Norwegian crowd who had supported and applauded her through fifteen years of racing on the World Cup. 

“It’s a lot of emotion now,” Johaug said at the finish. “I start here in 2011 with my first individual victory, and today is my last race here. It was sun and blue sky, the same as  in 2011, and there were a lot of people around the track cheering for me. I’m so happy now, but also so sad that this is the end of my career.”

Therese Johaug was emotional at the finish of today’s 30 k classic at Holmenkollen, the venue where she won her first individual World Championship gold in the 30 k skate eleven years prior. (Photo: NordicFocus)
Norway’s legendary Therese Johaug wins the 30 k mass start classic, exactly 11 years after her first individual World Championship gold medal was won on the same tracks. (Photo: NordicFocus)

While she indicated during the Olympics that she would not compete another four years, it was not until yesterday that she officially announced that this would be her final race at Holmenkollen. 

“In many ways, it feels as if the [story] ends when on Saturday, March 5, 2022, I stand on the starting line for another 30 k in Holmenkollen. I really do not want the journey to end, but it is a time for everything,” she wrote to NRK. “In light of this, I look forward to a final fight at home with the flag on my chest, and I am grateful for everything the sport has given me.”

Therese Johaug is showered with champagne after winning the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen following her retirement announcement. (Photo: NordicFocus)
Therese Johaug celebrates her final race race at Holmenkollen, winning the 30 k classic exactly eleven years after taking her first individual World Championship gold on these tracks. (Photo: NordicFocus)

As Queen’s “We are the Champions” blared through the stadium, Johaug stepped off the podium only to be soaked by champagne sprayed by a flock of teammates wearing shirts spelling her name, with “takk” – thank you – written with a heart at the end of the row. It was a joyous celebration fitting for the moment, and perhaps also a refreshing distraction from the times at large.

“There are a lot of strong moments, but I am moved when so many people come here and see my last race. I must thank the Norwegian people who stand here today,” Johaug later said to NRK.

While you can certainly expect a more in-depth look at her storied career on FasterSkier, for now, we’ll echo the crowds in congratulating Therese Johaug, and we look forward to following along for the next chapters.

Therese Johaug celebrates her final race race at Holmenkollen, winning the 30 k classic exactly eleven years after taking her first individual World Championship gold on these tracks. (Photo: NordicFocus)
Krista Pärmäkoski (FIN) and Jonna Sundling (SWE) lift champion Therese Johaug (NOR) for a podium shot at the finish of the 30 k classic in Oslo. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Behind the celebration, the lineup of women in today’s top-10 was remarkably similar to the Olympic 10 k interval start classic, with a few name swaps, and of course, a few noteworthy athletes missing – namely, Natalia Nepryaeva and Tatiana Sorina of Russia, and Jessie Diggins, who had been fourth, seventh, and eighth, respectively. 

The volume of the ringing cowbells swelled as Finland’s Krista Pärmäkoski skied through the stadium on her own for second place, after pulling away from the first chase pack with 5 k to go and maintaining a healthy 10-15 second gap through the finish. Coming back on form after a few rocky seasons, Pärmäkoski had been third in the 10 k classic in Zhangjiakou, behind her teammate Kerttu Niskanen, who was fourth today (+33.8). 

Finland’s Krista Pärmäkoski takes second in the 30 k mass start classic at Holmenkollen in Oslo, NOR. (Photo: NordicFocus)
The women’s 30 k classic podium at Holmenkollen: Therese Johaug (NOR) took the win ahead of Krista Pärmäkoski (FIN) and Jonna Sundling (SWE). (Photo: NordicFocus)

Between the Finns, Sweden’s Jonna Sundling reaffirmed her talents across all distances, taking the third spot on the podium (+32.3) just two days after being second in Drammen’s classic sprint. Matching her fifth place result in the Olympic 10 k, Germany’s Katharina Hennig followed Niskanen to the line (+34.7) with Therese Stadlober, who was ninth at the Games, crossing after a gap in sixth (+46.7). 

Leading the next chase group, and the American team, was Rosie Brennan in seventh (+1:12.3), bringing Norway’s Marte Skaanes and Sweden’s Ebba Andersson to the line just behind her for eighth (+1:13.1) and ninth (+1:13.8), respectively.  

Rosie Brennan leads Norway’s Marte Skaanes and Sweden’s Ebba Andersson to the line. (Photo: NordicFocus)

“Today was huge for me,” Brennan wrote in a post-race email. “I have struggled here my entire career, and [though] it’s been a few years since I’ve raced here and I have improved a lot in the last few years, I still felt I lacked a lot of confidence and excitement coming here [today]. It’s also been a really stressful week for a variety of reasons, so I showed up today with an immense amount of anxiety that I needed to get a hold of before the race started. 

“I am really proud of giving myself another chance to put together a good race here and to have managed the stress and anxiety well enough to do so. I wasn’t feeling in a place to shoot for the moon so I tried to start a bit a conservative the first 5 k and then reevaluate. I had a great ride with Ebba and really had an enjoyable time skiing out there today. The last lap, we had the chance to pick off a few from the lead pack and so I started to ramp things up to see what was possible. I felt strong on the last climb and felt I had a good shot at the sprint finish so I went on the last little bump before the [last 100 meters]. It felt great to finish strong and to put together a really solid race today.” 

Rosie Brennan skis to seventh in the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Following her classic sprint race in Drammen Thursday, Brennan joked post-race that she had lost out on yet-another boot slide. Today, the final sprint was hers. It was perhaps, also worth American fans celebrating that today that she won amongst her chase group, just under two weeks after a brave and gritty performance in the Olympic 30 k skate where she had pulled the chase group for much of the race, wearing herself out to break the wind, only to be dropped in the final 600 meters as Niskanen pulled away for a bronze medal. However, Brennan said she is not connecting any dots between the two.

“This race was nothing like Zhangjakou, really hard to even compare the two. 30 k’s are always an adventure and I am really happy to have put together two strong ones, in each technique.” 

Rosie Brennan skis to seventh in the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Commenting on how she is feeling, mentally and physically, with one final race weekend to go, Brennan concluded, “I am really bummed that the [World Cup] Finals were canceled. I haven’t raced a ton this season because of the earlier cancellations and while it has been a very high density block since the Olympics started, I am still feeling strong and wanted to see what I could do. But it will be really fun to end the season with the mixed relay event as that is a new one for us!” 

Julia Kern was next for the US in 23rd (+3:37.2), followed by Hailey Swirbul in 26th (+3:57.8), and Caitlin Patterson – six days after taking second at the American Birkie – in 30th (+4:11.5). 

Julia Kern skis to 23rd in the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen in Oslo, NOR. (Photo: NordicFocus)
Hailey Swirbul skis to 26th in the 30 k classic at Holmenkollen in Oslo, NOR. (Photo: NordicFocus)

In a post-race call, head coach Matt Whitcomb shared that Kern’s result was perhaps especially noteworthy as she has been struggling throughout the season with nausea during distance races, making it difficult for her to keep down fluids taken in prior to the race, let alone receive feeds during. Whitcomb also explained that Diggins sat out today’s race as she was feeling lingering fatigue from the long, and successful, season of racing. He affirmed that she is healthy and will be ready to race for the final World Cup weekend in Falun, beginning next Friday. Listen to the full call with Whitcomb below.

Outside the top-30 for the US, Katharine Ogden was 37th (+5:54.1), followed by Rosie Frankowski, who has consistently landed on SuperTour podiums throughout the season, in 46th (+8:12.2). 

Katharine Ogden (left) and Caitlin Patterson (right, bib 32) take to the course at the start of the women’s 30 k classic at Holmenkollen. (Photo: NordicFocus)
Canada’s Cendrine Browne (bib 43) leads Katharine Ogden (bib 40) during the 30 k mass start classic at Holmenkollen. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Racing for Canada, Katherine Stewart-Jones led the way in 22nd (+3:25.0), with Cendrine Browne also inside the top-30 in 25th (+3:53.7). After a successful World Junior Championship in Lygna, NOR, Jasmine Drolet finished 42nd today (+6:53.2), with Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt closing out the Canadian racers in 48th (+10:19.8). 

Results

Rachel Perkins

Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646

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