ZHANGJIAKOU, China : They may have more Winter Olympic medals than any other nation, but a succession of positive COVID-19 tests in the camp has left Norway clinging to the hope that their athletes can make it to the start lines at the Beijing Games, never mind the podiums.
Every day seems to bring a new story of a Norwegian positive test or a close contact, with several athletes in isolation and several more who haven’t even made it to China from Europe yet.
“It’s for sure been some tough, tough days lately, but now we’re here and just looking forward to racing,” cross-country skier Johannes Klaebo, who took home three gold medals at the 2018 Olympics, told reporters.
“Just being here now and being together with teammates and trying to find this race mode again, it’s probably the best way to get into the right mental situation.”
It won’t be easy.
On Thursday news broke that Jarl Magnus Riiber, widely tipped as a shoo-in to medal in the Nordic combined, had tested positive for COVID-19, and Saturday’s cross-country skiathlon will see the Norwegian women short of a full complement of four racers, with only three nominated to start.
“It’s not the ideal start of the championships, it’s been some hectic days and a lot of nerves and chaos, but it will go more and more back to normal in the next few days,” Riiber’s teammate Jens Oftebro told Reuters.
Oftebro explained how news that Estonian athlete Kristjan Elves, who trains with the Norwegians, had tested positive was the beginning of a run of bad luck for the Norway camp.
“I was feeling good when we arrived here, but then the first positive test with Kristjan came and then Jarl, we don’t know if there’s any positive more positive tests, so we just hope for the best,” he said.
With cross-country skier Heidi Weng out due to a positive test, Riiber missing the Nordic combined and biathlete Johannes Thingnes Boe considered a possible close contact of Riiber’s, Norway may not add as many Winter Olympic medals as expected to their world-leading total of 368.
Known for being a close-knit team across the winter sports, the Norwegians are having to get used to keeping their distance form one another to avoid jeopardising their medal hopes any further.
“I’m just in my own room all the time, apart from when I’m training and eating – it’s a bit boring, but it’s been like that for a couple of years now,” Oftebro said.
Ski coach Eirik Myhr Nossum sounded a note of defiance at the cross-country venue on Friday, saying that Norway would be going “all-in” to get 2018 Olympic champ Simen Hegstad Krueger to China after a bout of COVID-19 in time for the men’s 50 km race on Feb 19.
“Things are going in the right direction”, he told state broadcaster NRK, and the five million population of skiing-mad Norwegians back home can only hope that he is right in his assessment of the situation.