The new Norwegian cross-country skiing star
He was the hero of the 2017-2018 Olympic cross-country season: at age 21, Johannes Klaebo won three gold medals at PyeongChang 2018 to tie with French biathlete Martin Fourcade for the most gold medals won at the Games. The youngest Olympic champion in his sport, he also became, at the end of the season, the youngest winner of the big FIS Crystal Globe. Norway has a new star!
On skis by the age of 2
Johannes Høsflot Klaebo told his story to the FIS after winning his first Crystal Globe (in the sprint) at the end of the 2016-2017 season, his first on the World Cup circuit, during which he continued to compete at the junior level. "I’m a 20-year old guy from Trondheim. I still live with my younger brother, sister and my parents. My granddad gave me my first pair of skis for Christmas when I was two. Apparently, I was skiing in our living room the whole day. My mum and dad love cross-country skiing, and when we were kids we used to ski a lot together. When I was a kid we spent many hours skiing and jumping. But what I loved most was football. I spent virtually all my time on the pitch and I was sure I would become a footballer."
A well-documented journey
But in the end, growing up in a winter sports nation, it was through cross-country skiing that he would develop his sporting prowess. He participated in his first Junior World Championships in 2015 in Almaty (Kazakhstan), where he won two bronze medals, in the classic sprint and relay. In February 2016, in Râșnov (Romania) he competed in four events and won three gold medals: the freestyle sprint, the 10km classic and the relay. In the same season, he joined the World Cup circuit for the first time. In his second race at this level, in Ruka (Finland) in November 2016, he was on the podium: third in the sprint. He took his first World Cup title, again in the sprint, in Otepää (Estonia) on 18 February 2017, and finished the pre-Olympic season with a bang, winning the “minitour” of Quebec and the Crystal Globe for the sprint. In addition, at the beginning of the year, he started a “vlog” on his YouTube channel, through which he gives his fans – 60,000 subscribers, and some videos with over 200,000 views – a weekly insight into his life as a top-level athlete, by filming and commentating on his journeys across the snow-covered parts of the world.
An Olympic winter at the top of the world
The young cross-country skier from Trondheim arrived at the PyeongChang Games with a formidable reputation. He was the sensation of the winter season, having already secured 12 wins and 19 podium finishes in 23 races on the World Cup circuit. He impressed audiences and his Norwegian team-mates alike, which included the winner of the overall standings of the last two FIS World Cups, Martin Jonhsrud Sundby. "What Klaebo’s done during these three days is just incredible. He’s probably the best Norwegian cross-country skier we’ve ever had. This kid is worth the admission fee alone. Only Bjorn Daehlie and Petter Northug are still ahead of him. He’s the best in the world already," said Sundby in Ruka at the start of the cross-country winter season from 24 to 26 November 2017, and where Johannes left everyone else behind. He continued his dominant form by winning a total of seven victories before the end of the year, a feat which had never been achieved in just the first two months of the cross-country World Cup. By which point he had a healthy lead in the overall standings.
The youngest Olympic champion in his sport
On 11 February 2018, the 15km + 15km skiathlon, the first event to be contested in the Olympic Stadium in Alpensia, ended in an all Norwegian podium. Simen Hegstad Krueger took gold, with the silver going to Martin Johnsrud Sundby and the bronze to Hans Christer Hollund. Not in the mix, Johannes took 10th place. But 48 hours later in the sprint classic, he launched a strong attack on the final hill of the circuit to win in superb style and become, at the age of 21 and 114 days, the youngest cross-country Olympic champion of all time. "I think there was an enormous amount of pressure from outside in these last two weeks, and to show that I am capable of winning here, it's just incredible," he explained. "Of course, it is tough. It has been a few days since I had a good night's sleep. But now, I can relax and concentrate on the rest of the programme. But I am going to celebrate this now too." And on the subject of his record as the youngest cross-country Olympic champion, he added: "Yes, I heard that. It is certainly very cool. I just need to concentrate on what I have to do. And as the pressure can get to you, it is even better to win convincingly. It is just the first event, and I am impatient for the next ones!"
On 18 February, Johannes secured gold for Norway in the 4 x 10km relay. He raced the anchor leg of the relay, in which he left his team's final rival, the Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR), Denis Spitsov, firmly behind with an unanswerable acceleration on the penultimate hill. Didrik Tønseth, Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Simen Hegstad Krueger, who were waiting in the finish area to celebrate with their team-mate, were completely stunned. "Many of our skiers could have competed in this relay. We are just grateful to be here, and to be able to go after the gold. On the final lap, I was feeling strong. Also in my first lap, and my skis were well prepared so I knew that I could attack at that moment, on the penultimate hill. I was feeling strong and managed to increase the gap; it was an incredible feeling," explained the hero of the day. Three days later, there was another gold to contest in the team sprint free. Johannes and Sundby left no room for suspense. It was the younger of the two who finished the job with a significant lead over the OAR and French duos. There were only two triple Olympic champions at PyeongChang 2018: the French biathlete Martin Fourcade and Johannes Høsflot Klaebo!
"This guy inspires me," said Sundby. "He only came in last season and in this season, maybe showing us how modern cross-country skiing should be. He is a talent that everybody can see for themselves, but he is only 21 years old. I may have one or two bits of advice to give him over the next few years, but for sure he has taken cross-country skiing to another level."
The icing on the cake
After his achievements in Korea, the Norwegian phenomenon still had a task to finish: win the FIS Crystal Globe. Although he reported on his vlog that he was having difficulty motivating himself, and was particularly tired, he mustered up what mental and physical strength he had left for the final events in Lahti (Finland), Drammen and Olso (Norway) and finally Falun (Sweden), and with his 14th victory of the winter – the sprint in Falun on 16 March – became the youngest ever winner of the overall standings in the history of the cross-country skiing World Cup. "This season has been completely crazy. And now, I am impatient for the next one to begin," he said. This roaring start to the young Norwegian's career is just the prologue to what promises to be a tremendous sporting journey at the very highest level.