Discovering Jonna Sundling , the rampant “dark horse” in Swedish Cross-Country team .
For many cross country experts, whether involved in media or in technics, Jonna Sundling 's victory in the sprint at Lillehammer has been a totally unexpected result and one of the biggest surprises at the start of the FIS Cross-Country World Cup season 2018/19.
As we look deeper into her recent history and results, her maiden victory in Norway closed up a circle the 23-year-old Swede had left incomplete 8 months earlier in Falun. On the 16th March 2018 - in the prestigious skicenter of Dalarna - Jonna reached her first World Cup podium on the second place, finishing very close to her team mate Hanna Falk and ahead of Cross-Country queen Marit Bjørgen.
Despite her first World Cup podium, the last season was a bittersweet year for Sundling. Tormented by small ongoing illness during the first half of the season, she failed her attempt to get a ticket to compete at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games 2018. Once she overtook her physical problems, from the end of February, Sundling's season has been a crescendo of results beginning with podium at the Scandinavian Cup's difficult stage in Trondheim. The young Swede continued getting World Cup points at the sprint competitions in Lahti and Drammen until she exploded in homeground Falun during last FIS World Cup event that season.
At the Swedish Championships in Skellefteå, Sundling reminded the audience that she does not only focusses on sprint technique but also succeeds in distant races as she took bronze both in 10km and 30km interval start. She was only preceded by Kalla and Andersson but finished ahead of Olympic champion Stina Nilsson.
The careers of Stina Nilsson and Jonna Sundling ran throughoutly parallel. When asking swedish coaches, journalists and Cross-Country experts four years ago, who of the two would be more successful, opinions were divided almost equally between the two young skiiers.
The first international event in Sundling's junior career was in Erzerum Junior World Championships 2012 reaching forth place in sprint and getting a silver medal at the relay race anchored by her friend Stina.Twelve months later in Liberec, Sundling finished sixth in the sprint that was won by Stina. The two young swedes together however, led the swedish relay team to gold. Their team also included Sofia Henriksson and mitical Gunde Svan's daugther Julia. In her last Junior World Championships in Val di Fiemme 2014, the Umeå born skier won gold in sprint, repeated the final day with another gold medal in relay (even without Nilsson).
While her team companion and friend Stina immidiately shined in the World Cup circuit, for Sundling the first three years as a senior have been more characterised by sickness and phisical problems that limited her Cross-Country activity during the various international competitions in which she took part from November 2014 until last winter.
Trying to find a solution of the many days of illness she had in those seasons, Sundling was operated to tonsils last winter. Once her tonsils problems seemed to be solved, misfortune hit her once more this past summer by continuosly stomach pains.
"It was not clear what exactly I had, but I felt tired and often with a stomach ache. I could not train as I wanted. This issue lasted most of the summer. Then I underwent a gastroscopy and the result was positive. My stomach is working as it should but I had to take some medicines that helped me. Now I feel good and I have a good feeling with my body, it seems that my form is getting better and better. Obviously my target for the season is to be selected for the World Cup in Seefeld although internal competition is fierce. There are so many good Cross-Country skiers in our team this season. Sprint race is in skating and that's suitable for me. If healthy, I want to be there and doing my skiing at my best. It is gonna be an exciting challenge."
Jonna underlines how that maiden victory at the World Cup was quite unexpected at that moment considering she missed Ruka Opening due to a flu:"I didn't think I was able to beat Stina Nilsson in the final. Also because the previous week I had to skip Ruka because of a cold. I wasn't very sure of my feelings after the qualification but then round after round I felt better and better. When I reached Stina in the final straight I just thought to go even faster. And I did it."
"Jonnis", as she is called by friends, was born twentythree years ago in the idyllic little town of Tvärålund, only three hundred placid inhabitants, in the Vindeln municipality, placed 30km north of the most famous Umeå , capital of Västerbotten region. After she started her "längskidor" career with the classic school and regional competitions, Jonna begins to draw first attention in Sweden at the time of ski gymnasium that she attended in Lycksele where she was trained by the former coach of swedish junior Cathrine Engman. In addition, Jonna was accompanied by Johanna Ojala, team leader and swedish national coach who saw her growing up.
Ojala remembers the physical problems Sundling had during her still young career: "She has had a lot of problems with illness and in 2017 (she missed the World Champs in Lahti due to sickness) she had surgery to remove her tonsils. After that she reduced her number of days being sick remarkably! Once she had solved this kind of problems we all have discovered how an interesting and fast skiier Jonna is."
"During last season Jonna has developed her technique in classic skiing. She has always been a -leg skier- and hasn’t had a good synch with her upper body. But she has put down a lot of work in the gym and she has transferred it to her skiing! So now she has a better coordination of her body which means (in my opinion) that she has developed her classic technique to a top level. She is a better double poler as well now. She has a very smooth way of skiing, especially in skating. She sort of floats above the surface. But still, she can be very explosive. I think we will see much more of her along this season!"
The precious Johanna, which now collaborates weekly with Swedish national television SVT give us also two interesting details related to Sundling's preparation: "After the gold in Val di Fiemme, for the season 2014/15 Jonna (first year's senior, only 20 years old) got a spot in senior national team, together with Kalla, Nilsson, etc. - but she got over trained. Young, ambitious, but maybe not mature enough to find her boundaries, she trained a lot and ran/skied on an intensity little too high for her capacity at the time. So the season after (17-18) she trained on a more balanced level."
"Jonna is a really sweet and nice girl. She is open with her trainings and basically with everything that she is doing. I think these years with a bit of struggle has made her mature a bit more. If she gets to stay healthy, I think we will have a lot more to see from her, in the coming years."