CommunityFeatureNewsWorld CupSaying Goodbye to Some Big Names in Cross-Country: an International Retirement Roundup

Ella HallApril 5, 2022

Each year at the conclusion of the race season, there are always a few athletes who hang up their skis and step away from professional racing. The end of the four year Olympic cycle inevitably means a higher concentration of such announcements. Whether it was a fourth or a first appearance at the Games, or a near miss, the Olympics are always a target and their completion provides a good moment to move on. While the retirement announcements will likely continue into the spring, here is a roundup and recognition of the international athletes who have shared the news that they will be ending their ski careers. 

A scene from the cross country venue in Zhangjiakou, China, host to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Four athletes from the Swiss team have announced that they will be moving on, chief among them – the king of the 15 k, Dario Cologna. At the age of 36, Cologna released his decision before the 2021/22 season even began, saying, “the decision came within the last months and after the Olympics, it will be the perfect timing for me. I have achieved everything I ever dreamed of in the sport.”

Switzerland’s Dario Cologna lunges to the line at the 2018 Holmenkollen 50-kilometer freestyle race in Olslo, Norway. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Cologna had his World Cup debut in 2006 and his first Olympic start came in 2010 in the 15 k skate event, where he finished first. This victory crowned him as the first Swiss cross-country skier to earn an Olympic gold medal. He went on to win three additional golds, in the 2014 Sochi Games he won both the skiathlon and the the 15 k classic, and in 2018 in PyeongChang added a gold in the 15 k skate. All told, Colgona had eighteen Olympic starts at four different games.

In between Olympic years, he was equally successful. He won the Overall World Cup globe four times, first in the  2007/08 season, again in 2010/11 and 2011/12 and a few years later in 2014/15. In the 2007/08 season he also earned his first Tour de Ski victory, in spite of the fact that he never took a stage win that year. He won the grueling event three more times, in 2010/11, 2011/12 and again in 2017/18. 

Dario Cologna (SUI) with his trophy after winning the Tour de Ski in 2011 (Photo: Fiemme2013)

After his final outing in the legendary Holmenkollen 50 k, Cologna wrote on Instagram, “I look back on a beautiful and successful career. 15 years ago I never dared to dream that one day I would be a four-time Olympic champion, World Champion, multiple Tour de Ski- and overall World Cup winner. In addition, I was privileged to travel to places I would never have seen and met great people, who became good friends.” 

Dario Cologna (SUI) after a 6th place finish in Val Mustair during the 2021 Tour de Ski. Photo: Nordic Focus

Cologna’s teammate, Jovian Hediger, also announced his retirement prior to the start of this season. Hediger was known as a sprint specialist and has 107 World Cup starts to his name, having made his debut in 2009. His first and only podium appearance came in 2021 during the team sprint event in Ulricehamn, Sweden, where he and Roman Furger finished second. Hediger represented Switzerland at three Olympic games, beginning with Sochi in 2014 and ending most recently in Beijing (2022). 

Jovian Hediger (SUI) gets a boost from some happy teammates at the finish line in Ulricehamn Sweden. (Photo: Nordic Focus)

Ueli Schnider of Switzerland is also stepping away from elite competition. Schnider has 62 World Cup starts and made two Olympic appearances, both in 2018 in PyeongChang where he finished 37th in the classic sprint and 41st in the 50 k classic mass start. 

On the women’s side, Laurien Van Der Graaff of Switzerland is moving on. Van Der Graaff has long been a staple in women’s sprinting, beginning in 2011 with her first World Cup podium in Duesseldorf, Germany. In doing so, Van Der Graaff became the second Swiss female athlete ever to reach the podium and over the years she continued to pave the way for young Swiss female athletes. Her first victory came in 2017 in a skate sprint Tour de Ski stage race on home ground in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. 

The women’s sprint podium in Rybinsk Russia, 2015 (from l-r): Natalia Matveeva (RUS) second, Jennie Öberg (SWE) first, and Laurien Van Der Graaff (SUI) third.

Van Der Graaff partnered up many times with Nadine Fähndrich in team sprint events, resulting in four World Cup podium finishes. At the World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany (2021), Van Der Graaff and Fähndrich teammed up again, earning a silver medal when they finished just hundreths of a second behind team Sweden. 

Van Der Graaff shared with FIS, “for some time I was convinced that I would not continue skiing until Beijing 2022, but I made it and I am very proud of what I have achieved. However, now my time has come and I am excited for everything that is coming my way in this new chapter.”

The Swiss program celebrates the retirement of Laurien Van Der Graaff at the finish of the 4 x 5 k mixed relay in Falun. (Photo: NordicFocus)

While some athletes knew from the outset of the season that this would be their last, others only recently came to the decision. Such was the case for Swedish star, Charlotte Kalla, who just announced her intentions within the last month. The 34-year said, “the curiosity about life outside of elite sports weighs heavier than what a continued investment would entail.”

Kalla burst onto the World Cup scene at the age of eighteen. She earned her first victory in the next season, taking a stage win in Nove Mesto (2007) in the 10 k skate pursuit. In her first individual World Championships appearances, coming in Sapporo, Japan in 2007, Kalla finished 7th and 5th. To give you a sense of her consistency from then on, of the 34 World Championship events Kalla completed spanning 2007-2021, she finished in the top ten in 30 of those appearances with the exceptions being three 11th place finishes and one 18th. 

Charlotte Kalla of Sweden on her way to Olympic gold in Vancouver 2010 (Photo: FS archives)

Kalla represented Sweden at four different Olympic Games, Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014, PyeongChang 2018, and Beijing 2022. She came away from these events with five individual podiums, including two gold medals and three team medals including her jaw-dropping relay performance in the relay in 2014 when she made up a 25 second deficit to bring the Swedish women their first Olympic relay gold since 1960. 

Since then, the Swedish women’s team has come to dominate the World Cup circuit and Kalla has taken on a mentorship role within the team. “It’s an inspiring team to be a part of and many girls who have the right mindset to do their very best every day,” said Kalla in 2020. On March 22, 2022, Kalla announced on Instagram that the Swedish national competitions would be her last as an elite athlete. She wrote, “here I took my first [steps] as a seven-year old and it feels nice to end my career here.” 

Charlotte Kalla (SWE), Marit Bjoergen (NOR) and Heidi Weng (NOR) claim the podium in the women’s Olympic skiathlon, Sochi 2014.  (Photo: Fischer / Nordic Focus.)

Elisa Brocard of Italy is ending her ski-racing career at the age of 37. Brocard had her first World Cup start in 2006 and went on to contest 162 World Cup events. She represented Italy in three Olympic Games, beginning in Vancouver 2010, through PyeongChang in 2018. Her best season came in 2018 when she finished in the top-30 distance World Cup rankings and 38th overall. 

Nadine Herrmann of Germany is leaving elite competition as well. She is the younger sister of Denise Herrmann who raced the cross-country World Cup circuit until she transitioned to biathlon in 2017 where she went on to win gold in the individual event at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Nadine Herrmann finished in the top-thirty in her maiden World Cup appearance in 2018 in the Dresden city sprints. She went on to earn a number of top-thirty finishes, including a personal best individual finish of 18th in Dresden in 2020. At the age of 26, Herrmann has decided to move on, she wrote “My active sporting career is coming to an end. The last 14 years of performance sports have shaped me into the person who today can say in the best of my conscience, I gave it my all.” 

Adrien Backsheider of France has also announced his retirement. Backsheider began racing on the World Cup circuit in 2013. He earned six World Championships starts and helped propel team France to a bronze medal in the men’s 4 x 10 relay in Falun in 2015 and again in Seefeld in 2019. Backsheider also has four Olympic starts, as he represented France in Sochi 2014, PyeongChang 2018, and Beijing 2022. He was a member of the bronze medal relay team in PyeongChang when the French again earned a podium spot in the 4 x 10 relay. Backsheider’s personal best individual World Cup finish came in Östersund, Sweden in 2020 when he finished 7th in the 15 k skate stage race during the Tour de Scandinavia. 

The men’s 4 x 10 k relay at 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden, Norway with gold, Sweden with silver, and France with bronze . (Photo: Fischer/NordicFocus)

Cendrine Browne of Canada is saying goodbye to professional ski racing as well, having concluded her career with a national title in the 45 k skate in Whistler, Canada. Browne made her World Cup debut in 2012 and went on to start 76 World Cup races. She made the Canadian Olympic team in 2018 and 2022 and also posted thirteen World Championships starts. Browne finished 16th in the 30 k skate mass start in Beijing, a personal best individual finish for her. In a statement to Nordiq Canada after the 45 k race, Browne said, “thank you to everyone in the ski community who has believed in me and cheered for me over the last ten years.” 

Cendrine Browne reached a new personal best with her 16th place finish in the 30 k skate mass start in Beijing 2022 (Photo: NordicFocus)

The notable retirement of the extremely successful, Therese Johaug of Norway has not been missed but will be receiving its own feature from FasterSkier in the coming weeks. Additionally, US Ski Team members Katharine Ogden, Hannah Halvorsen, and Caitlin Patterson have all shared news of their retirement, in addition to top SuperTour athletes Ian Torchia and Adam Martin. (Read Torchia’s retirement story here.)

Stay tuned for more in-depth reporting on those athletes from FasterSkier.

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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