DALSBYGDA, NORWAY – Therese Johaug’s younger brother, Karstein Johaug Jr., was among the top Norwegian juniors for the 2008-09 season, but he was injured and sick for most of last season. Now healthy and stronger than ever, the 18-year-old is determined to make the 2012 junior world championships. Karstein is a senior this year at the ski academy high school in Tynset, Norway, the same program from which Therese graduated from three years ago. But following a very famous sibling’s footsteps is not something Karstein pays a lot of mind to. It’s just another part of life.
“I don’t really think about the fact that I have a famous sibling very often. I’ve always been active, and I’ve skied since I could walk. I started ski racing when I was 3 years old, and I’ve always wanted to follow in Therese’s footsteps since the start,” Karstein says, and explains: “We compete with each other all the time, and it’s really fun, especially lately when I’ve been able to match her. It used to be where she would beat me all the time and I was not even close. We train very much the same, ideally two workouts per day, and we’re pretty evenly matched now. That makes it fun and motivating. I really like it when she’s home.”
“For me, having a famous sibling is solely a bonus. For instance, she gets a lot of equipment, and I get to test and feel a lot of different things. She has contacts that have been useful for me too, so it’s all just a win-win situation,” Karstein says.
Therese and Karstein are the middle siblings in a family of four kids. They all grew up on a farm in Dalsbygda, in east central Norway, where the family still lives. The Johaug parents were never ski racers themselves, but they encouraged and nurtured the appreciation of the outdoors and an active lifestyle as a family. Karstein also points out that their parents always supported their kids’ pursuits, whether it was soccer, gymnastics, track or skiing, all of which have been important parts of the Johaug kids’ lives.
The older brother, Joakim (the oldest of four), used to ski race but quit after his junior years, while the youngest of the four, Veronika, likes to work out and stay fit but doesn’t particularly enjoy competing, Karstein explains.
No external pressure
Karstein never felt intimidated or pressured by his sister’s world-class performances. To Karstein, Therese’s merits are just a bonus; the drive to succeed is his own.
“I don’t feel any performance pressure from others to be as good as her or place as well as she does. My parents are just really involved and they think it’s really fun that we like being outside and like skiing. The biggest pressure is the pressure I put on myself,” he says.
Local support and good mentors
Talent and drive is only a part of the equation. Success is a result of a community effort and a supportive environment. Karstein said he feels fortunate to grow up in a place that values skiing, with a development structure in place for those climbing the performance ladder.
“I think the local clubs and the training environment here [in the Tynset area] make up the backbone of the recruitment, and it’s a key to developing good ski racers. Also, Norway generally has a club and development structure that works well with the academic system, and it’s easy to find ways to integrate training and academics,” Karstein says, adding that he also has a personal mentor locally.
Starting this fall, Karstein will be working with former World Cup racer Krister Trondsen from the nearby town of Røros. Sister Therese also had a mentor as she transitioned from the junior to the senior level and stepped up her racing, from the international junior circuit to the World Cup. Former Olympian Maj Helen Nymoen, from the neighboring village Os, helped Therese with everything from training programs to counseling and negotiating sponsor deals. They are still close, and while their formal agreement ended in 2009, Therese repeatedly thanks Nymoen for the support and inspiration during those transitional years. Karstein recognizes the value of a personal mentor, and trusts that Trondsen has a lot to offer, both in terms of experience and management.
“I think working with Krister Trondsen is an important part of stepping up to my goals. I want to go to the Junior World Championships in 2012, and I have never set a goal I haven’t attained so far. You have to set a training plan and stick to it, but I also think there are a lot of mental components to reaching your goals,” Karstein concludes.