Corresponding with a social media post from Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, the Norwegian news outlet NRK reported yesterday that each of the men’s national team sprinters who competed in Lahti last weekend has tested positive for COVID-19. Head sprint coach Arild Monsen told NRK that Håvard Solås Taugbøl was the first to test positive on Monday, followed by Erik Valnes, Pål Golberg, Sindre Bjørnestad Skar and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo on Tuesday. According to Trondheim regional newspaper Adresseavisen, the final Norwegian sprinter who raced in Lahti, Even Northug, has also been affected.
“It must have occurred in and around the stay in Lahti,” Monsen explained to NRK. “Håvard was the one who noticed symptoms on Monday. The others have little or no symptoms.”
Given the proximity to the upcoming sprint races in Drammen, Norway, Monsen indicated that these men would not be attending the competitions.
“What happens after that, we just have to look at. It’s boiling in many fields in the world now. This is smaller than other things, even though it is [disappointing] for those they concern,” Monsen continued.
At this time, no other athletes from the Norwegian program who attended the competitions in Lahti have tested positive. While the transmission link between the sprinters is clear, some athletes participated in both sprint and distance races, including Klæbo, who won the freestyle sprint and took second in the 15 k classic.
Team doctor Øystein Andersen indicated to NRK that the original source of the outbreak remains unknown.
“It’s hard to say [how this began],” Andersen said. “Everyone came from their own bubbles before this race, after they returned home from the Olympics. We must now first map out whether there are more [positive cases] and conduct infection tracking, so that we avoid more infection.”
As the World Cup Finals slated for March 18-20th currently remain listed as “canceled” on the FIS calendar, it is unclear whether these athletes will be able to compete on the World Cup again this season.
Klæbo told NRK that “most indications are that the season is over,” however, the loss of competition would not significantly impact his season outcome. Klæbo currently leads the World Cup overall standings by nearly 500 points over Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov, who is also unable to compete as FIS banned athletes from Russia and Belarus from competition for the remainder of the season. The next closest athlete to Klæbo is Finland’s Iivo Niskanen, who sits nearly 800 points back with limited scoring opportunities remaining. As the Falun World Cups feature a mixed relay and team sprint, this leaves two sprints and two distance races, worth 100 World Cup points each, currently confirmed on the FIS calendar.
If World Cup Finals are held at an alternate venue, athletes could score a maximum of 50 points per day, with the opportunity for up to 200 bonus points should they win the three-day mini-tour.
This still leaves fewer than 800 points on the table, and as such, it looks like Klæbo will win the overall World Cup regardless of whether he competes again this season.
Klæbo also leads the World Cup sprint standings with a 210 point lead over Richard Jouve, and is 237 points of third-ranked Lucas Chanavat, both of France. Classic sprint events are scheduled for Drammen on Thursday, followed by another classic sprint in Falun on Friday, March 11th. If World Cup Finals take place, there will be a third sprint opportunity there, raced freestyle. This leaves 200 points available without the World Cup finals, and 250 including them.
“Compared to all the other things going on in the world at the moment, this is just a bagatelle,” Klæbo wrote in his announcement on Instagram.
“There is nothing to do but take it easy,” Pål Golberg said to NRK. “It’s [disappointing] that it’s coming now, but we can be very happy that we managed to avoid more infection in the camp before the Olympics when people became infected in Seiser Alm.”
On what is next, Golberg continued, “If I do not develop symptoms, it may be relevant to go to Falun next weekend. And then there are many [domestic] races over the late winter. Then we will see if it is worth it.”
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