Just the other day, a guy walked into a local cross-country ski area where a women’s World Cup race broadcast was streaming. Another patron asked him who he thought would win? He didn’t know what the race was or who the favorite was. But without so much as the bat of an eye, he replied, “Weng”—The odds were in his favor.
Weng family members involved in World Cup skiing are a combination of cousins, sisters, twins: for those who follow cross-country racing, watching a women’s event may seem something like a Norwegian twist on the old Abbott and Costello baseball gag about “Who’s on First?” (if you haven’t seen this classic comedy routine, check it out. It’s held up remarkably well) with Bud Abbott’s made-up names all replaced with “Weng.”
Americans are accustomed to family names in sports. Baseball has many: the Perrys (Gaylord and Jim), and the Ripkens (Cal and Billy) are two of the more notable. Then there’s the Williams sisters in tennis, and the Staal brothers in hockey. But the closest American sports fans could come to the Weng dynasty would be if Cooper Manning strutted onto the football field and began slinging touchdowns like his brothers Peyton and Eli.
There is sibling dominance in other Nordic events. Biathlon has the Boe brothers and the Oeberg sisters. But none of them add up to the mathematical triumvirate like the Wengs.
Part of the Weng confusion is due to nomenclature—sometimes, the Weng’s full names are abbreviated by using first initials only; sometimes the first two initials; other times, the entire name is used. T. Weng is the same as T.U. Weng, which are both ways of identifying Tiril Udnes Weng. These differing templates can vary from race to race, making it seem as though there are new Wengs popping up out of the woodwork every weekend.
The confusion is also magnified by percentages and the Wengs’ proficiency. For instance, in the Lillehammer women’s 10-kilometer freestyle, 58 skiers lined up for the start. Three of them, or roughly 5 percent of the field were Wengs.
In most North American sports, the number of participants is large enough so that a few duplicate names don’t present much confusion. Siblings and relatives simply don’t compete against each other often enough to make things as muddled. But in Lillehammer, three Wengs finished within 20 seconds of each other; close enough to give fits to even the stoutest of play-by-play announcers.
The ubiquitous presence of Wengs can be daunting to sort out. I’ll try and prevent this from becoming something like Bubba’s recitation of how many ways there are to make shrimp in Forest Gump. So, here’s a primer on knowing your Wengs:
To the North American audience, the best known of the Wengs is Heidi. At 31 years of age, she has won an Olympic medal, multiple World Championship medals, and World Cup Crystal Globes. Heidi has a mind numbing 260 World Cup starts and she’s stood on the World Cup podium a whopping 104 times going back to 2009. No, that’s not a misprint—104 podiums! That’s more World Cup podiums than most of her competitors have races. She is currently ranked 15th in the overall World Cup standings.
Over the course of her career, Heid has shown remarkable consistency; however, the numbers clearly show that distance is her forte. Over the last five years she’s won only a handful of sprint points.
Heidi’s ski career was nurtured by her grandmother when the young Weng began skiing as a 3-year-old. Heidi is multi-talented, having also won the 2010 Norwegian trail running championship.
Heidi’s sister Merete also competed in cross country for Norway, finishing 29th in the 2013 national championships in the 30-kilometer classic. Fortunately, for those who have difficulty keeping the Weng’s identity straight, Merete does not compete at the World Cup level.
Next is Tiril Udnes Weng, Heidi’s cousin. Tiril is 26 years old and has raced the World Cup since 2015. She has 98 World cup starts with five podium performances, and she has won World Championship gold. Tiril has been on a tear lately, with four of her podium finishes coming this year leading to her current domination of the World Cup rankings. She is currently in first place in the overall World Cup points, second in distance, and first in sprint. She is proving to be quite the all-around skier showing excellent performance balance between sprint and distance events. Last year she finished 16th overall, so she has made a remarkable performance jump.
Then there is Lotta Udnes Weng who is Tiril’s twin sister. That would also make her 26 years old and also Heidi’s cousin. Her first World Cup race also came in 2015. She’s already amassed 81 World Cup starts, earning one World Cup podium. Lotta is currently 11th in the overall cup standings having moved up from 28th last year. Like her twin, she also shows good balance between distance and sprint events.
Given the Weng’s strength across all events, it’s a real possibility that this winter could present an all Weng podium. Though, as of now, bookmakers don’t appear to have set odds on that particular outcome.
So that’s the cheat sheet on knowing your Wengs. Think you now have the Weng lineup straightened out? Sorry to break the news to you, but lurking in the wings is Tora Roenneberg Weng, a17-year-old junior whose star is on the rise. If she makes it to the national team, then the possibility of an all-Weng relay team will exist. Wait for her to join the World Cup tour: then the real confusion could start.