By Teemu Virtanen
Sweden has always been a strong cross-country skiing nation with many world-famous stars and legends whose contribution to the sport goes unparalleled by any other country, except Norway. We remember Gunde Svan, Thomas Wassberg and Sixten Jernberg from the times past and the more current ones such as Charlotte Kalla, Frida Karlsson, Anders Södergren, Marcus Hellner, Johan Olsson and many more. In long distance skiing, Britta Johansson Norgren has cemented her reputation as the undisputed queen of Visma Ski Classics.
But it has been a while since a Swedish skier has won a Pro Tour race, let alone won the sought-after Champion title. Jörgen Brink’s amazing triple feat at Vasaloppet, three consecutive victories in 2010-12, is one of the greatest achievements in Swedish cross-country skiing, and his countrymen and women wait for someone to reach the same heights.
In Season X, Sweden may see its first Visma Ski Classics winner in many years as Lager 157 Ski Team, Team Serneke and Team Igne have talented athletes who are ready to rock the house this winter. However, the most likely candidate to take the highest spot on the podium doesn’t represent a Swedish Pro Team but a Norwegian one. He is, of course, Oskar Kardin from the Aukland brothers’ Team Ragde Eiendom. He was on the podium twice last season; 3rd at La Diagonela and Marcialonga. He is in great shape, of which his 20th best time in Sweden in a 3000-meter run is an excellent proof.
This Swede started his skiing career when he was a young boy at his local kindergarten, and he has been skiing ever since. The playfulness of his early years turned into a more serious approach in his teens. He lived closed to the Persson brothers Nils and Emil, who now represent Lager 157 Ski Team, and they spent a lot of time on skis. When he turned 18, he decided to try his wings in long distances, and he quickly realized that endurance and double-poling power were his strong suits. He finished his first Vasaloppet in 2013 but shifted his focus on Visma Ski Classics three years ago.
Now, let’s sit down with this always charming and open athlete and enjoy a hefty Sunday brunch meal. Speaking of food, he tells me that he doesn’t really have a favorite meal but any food after a long and tedious workout tastes like the best he’s ever had. And here is the main course à la Oskar Kardin in all its tasty splendor.
What is your take on the last season when you look back now?
When I look back, I think I was in good shape during the summer and autumn but was a little bit sick during the winter and lost my shape in some occasions. I'm really satisfied with my two podium places, and I know that I can be up there and fight for victory if I’m in great shape and everything works out well during a race.
What are your takeaways from last winter (key learnings)?
The most important takeaway is to stay healthy and find a good balance between training and resting.
How has your summer and fall training been? Are there any special or new specific workouts you'd like to share with us?
I started the season with one month of cycling in the Alps living in an RV with my girlfriend. Since June and July, I have been training well and have been able to train according to my plan. Compared to the previous summers I have trained a little bit more because I haven't been in high altitude as much as before.
Can you name your favorite workout and the one you dislike the most? And what is a good workout example for a "regular Joe"?
A favorite workout for me is a long and easy training session in good weather, being in good shape and in good company. It can be running, roller-skiing, skiing or cycling. I dislike strength training, that's boring. My tip for non-professional skiers is to have good and long workouts when the weather is great and to do interval sessions on a treadmill or a skiergo when the weather is bad.
Speaking of training, you are a great runner. You just managed to get the 20th best time in Sweden in 3000 m. How important is running to you and how much of it do you have in your training program? And of course, how did it feel to run such a good time?
For me running is just fun and a good training method. During summer and fall seasons, running is maybe 25% of my training, which is about 5-6 hours per week. I race maybe once a month during the off-season, otherwise I only have slow and easy running sessions. For sure it's fun to run fast. But I'm far away if I compare my performance to real professional runners. For me, the most important thing is to beat my teammates.
Petter Eliassen joined your team this spring - what has his presence brought to the team and what have your personally learned from him?
Petter is a really strong guy and he raises the bar in every training session. To be in a team with four different yellow bib champs offers me a great chance to develop myself, and it gives me a really good environment to take steps further and make me better. I learn small things from all of them almost every day at our training camps.
It's been a while since the last Swedish male victory in VSC. You are one of the top candidates to get it soon, but what does it take to be a winner in any of the VSC races?
To be a winner you need high capacity, fast sprinting ability and good skis. I try to improve on all of those things, and I think I have developed step by step in the past three years and I’m closer to the ultimate goal, which is to win a Visma Ski Classics stage.
Besides skiing, what else do you value in life?
I love being outside in the nature; hunting, ski mountaineering, playing disc golf or just hanging out with a good bunch of people like my girlfriend or friends.
Visma Ski Classics is heading towards its 10th anniversary season - as a professional skier, how do you see the Pro Tour now and what new developments do you want to see taking place in the next 10 years?
I see that the tour is growing bigger and bigger every year. I wish we could get even more teams from Central- Europe. And I wish we can continue with just classic skiing and long distance races. Maybe at the end the season, we could have even more extreme races like Red Bull Nordenskiöldsloppet!
Finally, what is your long term goal & plan - what do you want to achieve in the years to come?
In the years to come, I want to develop and to be a Champion in Visma Ski Classics. Win some great races and have fun! Hopefully, I have many good years in store for me as a cross-country skier, otherwise I haven't thought about my future so much.
It seems that Oskar is confident and fully prepared for the steps it takes to become the number one athlete in this demanding sport. Before we finish devouring this splendid meal, it’s time for some delicious dessert. Take a cup of Swedish aroma filled coffee and enjoy these delicacies, and then please head out and take advantage of the outdoor activities your neighborhood can offer.
What is your favorite band (or artist)? It depends on my mood. Sometimes, I hear some good songs on the radio, but I never remember the name of the artist or the band.
What is your favorite movie? I’m not a movie buff. I prefer TV series, much like Peaky Blinders.
What was your favorite subject at school? I liked sports and math when I was at school.
Who is the sport legend you look upon? I like cycling and there are many great athletes in that sport, but I’d say Peter Sagan is my hero.
What is the best and worst race you’ve ever had? The worst race was Marcialonga two years ago when I got disqualified due to skating. I was in great shape and I felt really good throughout the race. It was really disappointing to get discarded. I’m still waiting for my best race, but La Diagonela this year was very close.
The best advice you've got from your parents or grandparents? They’ve given me so many, and I just don’t remember any specific ones.