By Teemu Virtanen & Erik Wickström
Britta Johansson Norgren, Lager 157 Ski Team, is an amazing athlete. She is a powerful double-poling machine with extremely strong endurance. Her superior performance in Vasaloppet was once again a proof of her great talent and perfect stamina. It will be interesting to see how well she can perform in a shorter race with free technique this Sunday when the biggest ski race in Central-Europe, Engadin Skimarathon, takes place. However, she is no stranger to skating as she uses it for training as do most of the long distance skiers.
Let’s go back to last Sunday one more time since we have a special treat for you. Our Pro XC Skiing correspondent and journalist Erik Wickström had a chance to race alongside with Britta for quite some time. Here is what Erik thought about the race and helping Britta out on the course.
How was your Vasaloppet this year?
Vasaloppet was tough for everyone this year. It was the slowest winning time since 2007 and I have never spent so much time getting to Mora in my eleven attempts. I was struggling between 35 km and 65 km. After that I got some energy back and passed lots of elite skiers that had bonked. I am very happy with my 72nd place. My training load last year was only 329 hours, so I think I performed well all things considered.
You skied together with Britta Johansson Norgren. When did that happen?
At the bottom of Lundbäcksbackarna a photographer that I know said “Erik, you are getting beaten by a girl”, when Britta was just a hundred meters behind. One of my goals is always to “win” the women’s category. So far, I have always succeeded, but when she caught me a few kilometres later, after around 60 km, I was exhausted. However, I managed to stay behind her.
It seemed to me that you wanted to help her as you were looking back a couple of times to see if she was still with you. Was that intentional?
After skiing behind Britta for a few kilometers, I started to feel better, so I could help her out by taking the lead and fighting the wind. Then we had a great teamwork going for a long time. When skiing in a time trial manner, you have to wait for the other person when making a shift. If Britta has to ski at her maximum speed for ten seconds every time we take turns, she will get tired. And if she gets tired, our duo will not move forward as fast as possible. Unfortunately, many skiers don’t understand this dynamic.
When did you take off?
At Eldris, with 9 km to go. A few kilometres before that, I realized I was the stronger, partly because my skis started to speed up. I was doing most of the job in the front and I had to slow down many times so that she could reach my back. So, I figured the fastest way for me to get to Mora was to go by myself. I finished about a minute ahead of Britta.
Did you talk to her at all during the race, and if so, what were you chatting about?
We talked about Brexit. No, just kidding. Both Britta and I were tired, so we did not say much more than “I can take the lead now for a while” etc. And in Eldris I thanked her for our good teamwork and told her that I had to go.
Based on your experience racing with her, how would you describe her as a pro skier?
She is totally awesome as a double poler. None in the whole world of cross-country skiing would have been able to keep up with her that day, all world cup skiers included. And she certainly did not have the fastest skis in the field, at least not during the last part of the race. She is a fighter, totally focused the whole way. I guess her average heart rate was closer to her maximum than the other skiers with similar racing times, and they were men.
You've been involved with Visma Ski Classics and our Pro XC Magazine and you are an experienced skier. Looking back, what is your take on Visma Ski Classics and its development?
I have worked with Visma Ski Classics on and off since 2012, and it has developed a great deal. In the beginning, it was good but not as cohesive. Now everything is done very professionally. There’s a huge difference, and it’s all to the better. I also enjoy that some of the new events, such as Reistadløpet and Ylläs-Levi, are tough. The athletes prefer long racing times.
Finally, do you have any interesting sport challenges coming up in the future or any other projects you'd like to mention?
I have skied for 24 hours and I have participated in several ultra events in skiing and running. For 2019, I don’t have any plans, but I might run 100 km at the Swedish Nationals. We just got our third child, so I will try to be at home as much as possible. My training will mostly be running with a baby stroller.
Erik works as a coach and instructor in the field of cross-country skiing. Here is information about his training programs and ski courses: