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Klaebo, the new star of Norwegian cross-country skiing

Johannes Klaebo Getty Images
The standout performer at the start of the 2017/18 FIS Cross-Country World Cup season, Norwegian 21-year-old Johannes Høsflot Klaebo has shown that he will be one to watch at PyeongChang 2018.

In recording 10 victories and 14 podium finishes in 20 FIS World Cup starts up to 31 December 2017, Klaebo has smashed age records and taken the cross-country scene by storm. His Norwegian team-mates have been just as impressed as everyone else, not least three-time reigning overall World Cup champion Martin Johnsrud Sundby. 

“Johannes has raised his game to heights no one has ever achieved before,” said Sundby, speaking at the Ruka Triple in Finland, where the Olympic cross-country season got under way on 24-26 November and where Klaebo swept the board with wins in the sprint, the 15km classic and the 15km pursuit.

What Klaebo’s done during these three days is just incredible. He’s probably the best Norwegian cross-country skier we’ve ever had. Martin Johnsrud Sundby Norway
“It’s a bit humiliating for us, but it’s fascinating too and fun to have a kid like him in our team,” added 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.” 

Klaebo followed up his Ruka exploits with two more wins in Lillehammer (NOR) in early December, coming home first in the classic sprint and then edging out Sundby in the 30km skiathlon, his first victory at that distance. 

The good times kept rolling for the Norwegian phenomenon in Davos (SUI) on 9 December, where he took the honours in the free sprint. To round off 2017 in the best possible style, Klaebo did what no other cross-country skier has ever done before, securing a seventh win before the year’s end with victory in the 15km pursuit in Toblach (ITA) on 17 December. 

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An early starter
Those seven wins have come in what is only Klaebo’s second World Cup season. The first ended with him collecting a sprint crystal globe, an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact he was also competing on the junior scene at the time. 

“I’m a 20-year old guy from Trondheim and I still live with my younger brother, sister and my parents,” said cross-country skiing’s new sensation. “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. My granddad has been my coach for years now. 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.” 

Klaebo’s future was on skis, however, and he made his FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships debut in Almaty (KAZ) in 2015, winning bronzes in the classic sprint and relay. When he returned to the competition the following year, in Râșnov (ROU), the Norwegian collected three golds in four events - for the freestyle sprint, 10km classic and the relay. He made his World Cup debut that year and claimed a stunning third place in only his second outing: the sprint in Ruka in November 2016. The Norwegian’s maiden win on the circuit came in the same event in Otepää (EST) on 18 February 2017. A few weeks later, Klaebo closed his debut campaign at the highest level with victory in the World Cup finals in Quebec City (CAN), where he also secured the sprint crystal globe. 

Dreaming big
The versatile Norwegian’s superb start to the Olympic season has cemented his status as one of the star attractions on the cross-country circuit and one of the leading contenders at PyeongChang 2018, where he will go for glory in the sprint, the 10km, 15km and the relay. 

Setting out his Olympic goals before the start of the season, he said: “My best chance is maybe in the sprint but I hope to fight for a podium finish in the other distances. The Norwegians who go to the Games will probably all be in with a chance of getting a medal.” 

Given his current rate of progress, there seems little doubt that Klaebo will excel in his Olympic debut in the Republic of Korea.

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