Klaebo: Record-Tying Win, History-Defining Cup

John TeafordMarch 26, 2023

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Winter conditions greeted competitors in Lahti, Finland, site of the final weekend of World Cup racing. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

The most dominant World Cup season ever by a male skier; a tally of wins that ties Theresa Johaug (NOR) for the greatest number of victories in a single season (20) by any skier, man or woman; a level of dominance across multiple disciplines rarely seen in any sport: that was the year orchestrated by Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR). It’s true that not every one of the world’s best skiers was there to race against him (Russian athletes were banned from competition by the FIS), but an athlete can only race those who toe the same starting line. Week after week, Klaebo undertook a campaign that tested his reserve, his endurance, his health, his speed, his tactics, and his place in history. Mission accomplished: Klaebo exits Lahti, Finland with two Crystal Globes in his hands—Sprint and All Around. By any standard, that’s quite a season.

Nearly a year ago—when an injury suffered during training threatened his World Cup season—Klaebo left the Norwegian Team’s training program for training on his own, for endless laps in a pool, for roller skiing in Soldier Hollow. It worked . . .

Months ago—when his World Cup season was interrupted by illness—Klaebo admitted to the media that he was unlikely to contend for the season-long World Cup. He was mistaken . . .

Just hours ago—after the starter’s pistol had fired, and the race had been run, and the finish line had been crossed—Klaebo made it clear that he is more than just a sprinter, more than just a skier. He is becoming a legend. At only 26 years of age, that legend seems likely to grow in seasons to come . . .

This has been the season of Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, and we devoted fans of cross country skiing should count our lucky stars that we were here to watch it happen.

Ben Ogden (USA) started the day in the green U23 World Cup Leader’s bib, a distinction he would win in the season-long competition. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

There were other stories to be told in Lahti: Iivo Niskanen (FIN) hoping to manufacture another classic skiing win in front of his cheering countrymen, Federico Pellegrino (ITA) hoping to hold his position on the World Cup Overall podium; Antoine Cyr (CAN) delivering an eighth place finish that confirms his arrival among the elite contenders in the sport; Ben Ogden (USA) wearing the green bib of the U23 Leader and hoping to end the season with that title in his hands. Ogden raced bravely—holding on to the lead pack until the half-way point and finishing a respectable 18th. That would prove sufficient to award him the U23 title. Other North Americans included Olivier Leveille (CAN) 20th, Zak Ketterson (USA) 28th, Luke Jager (USA) 33rd, Russell Kennedy (CAN) 38th, Gus Schumacher (USA) 40th, Xavier McKeever (CAN) 41st, Scott Patterson (USA) 50th.

Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR), Harald Oestberg Amundsen (NOR), and Iivo Niskanen (FIN) pushed the pace int the early stages of Lahti’s 20 k Classic Mass Start.  (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)
Men’s 20 k Mass Start Classic

The classic course in Lahti sends skiers around four laps of five kilometers each. Fans could be forgiven if they expected Klaebo to race like just any other talented sprinter who might tuck in behind other skiers and sprint past them in the finishing straightaway. Russian skiers and fans have been known to call him “Backpack,” referring to his propensity for sitting in while others do the work. The 20 k in Lahti was a mass start event, and tactics like those are entirely legal, and often heartily advised. But that’s not the race that Klaebo raced today.

Through the halfway point, Klaebo and Niskanen set the pace at the front of the race; not exactly a blistering pace, but one that controlled the field, strung it out a bit, and reduced the contenders to a lead pack of fifteen. Few other skiers ever stuck their noses out in the wind, content as they were to let the battle at the front be waged between a hometown hero hoping to impress his fans, and a talented sprinter out to prove a point. Niskanen pressed, Klaebo countered, and the rest of the field worked to hang on to the best seats in the house.

Ultimately, Niskanen’s efforts exhausted even him, as the faster skis of Norwegian athletes glided away from him on each downhill. Unlike last week during the night time sprints in Tallinn, Estonia, no predetermined waxing protocols were in place today; Norwegian wax-wizards were free to perform their magic. And the skis that came out of the vaunted Norwegian wax trailer were rockets . . . Klaebo’s most of all. That equipment advantage could have allowed him to simply re-use his favorite old strategy: punch up the last uphill, rocket away from his rivals down the last downhill, and coast across the finish line alone and unchallenged. But Klaebo appeared to have something more to prove.

When it comes to setting up the finish of a distance race, it’s risky to go early: everyone knows that. Klaebo went early . . . Niskanen had spent all he had, and other Norwegians were positioning to charge, when Klaebo floored it. With nearly three kilometers remaining, he powered up the course’s A climb, gapping Niskanen near the top and distancing himself from the field once and for all. Klaebo may still have crossed the finish line alone and unchallenged, but this time he did it a different way. That was no sprinter’s move; that was the move of a legend.

Behind him, his season-long rival—Paal Golberg (NOR)—sprinted clear of the chase group to take second, followed closely by this season’s other U23 revelation, William Poromaa (SWE). The final finish line of a long and challenging World Cup season had been crossed. All that remained was the awarding of Crystal Globes, the many interviews and photo opps, and the flights home to begin those plans and preparations that will bring these athletes back together next fall when the World Cup circus begins traveling again.

26.03.2023, Lahti, Finland (FIN):
Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR) alone at the finish line. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

Men’s 20 k Classic Mass Start RESULTS

Men’s World Cup Distance FINAL STANDINGS

Men’s World Cup Overall FINAL STANDINGS

Paal Golberg (NOR), Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR), William Poromaa (SWE) at the finish line of the 20 k Mass Start Classic in Lahti, Finland. (Photo: Modica/NordicFocus)

John Teaford

John Teaford—the Managing Editor of FasterSkier — has been the coach of Olympians, World Champions, and World Record Holders in six sports: Nordic skiing, speedskating, road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking, triathlon. In his long career as a writer/filmmaker, he spent many seasons as Director of Warren Miller’s annual feature film, and Producer of adventure documentary films for Discovery, ESPN, Disney, National Geographic, and NBC Sports.

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