Simen Hegstad Krüger; a name that undoubtedly went around the sports world after the legendary Skiathlon scenes at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang 2018. Immediately after the start, Simen was involved in a fall in which he broke his pole and set him back in the field. A long pursuit to return to the leading group began. Simen overtook 67 skiers before taking the lead for the final five kilometers of the race, going for his first Olympic Gold Medal at the age of 24.
It is not in many athlete’s nature to pull off a performance like this. Since then, Simen added 14 World Cup podiums to his list of successes and hit the podium at every race, he participated in at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf 2021.
But still, the now 28-year-old Norwegian does not hit the spotlight. Paolo Romanò of fondoitalia.it met Simen during the Norwegians training camp in Livigno, Italy to find out more on the modest top-athlete and his thoughts on the upcoming Olympics.
Setting the focus
Underneath the photo of Simen Hegstad Krüger’s yearbook of the Tåsen Elementary School in Oslo, notes reveal: “Simen can sit still for hours doing his homework” or “Simen is a member of a group with really smart students who know everything on Mathematics, many think Simen is small and shy but when you talk to him, he is a really funny guy,” and of course in terms on his athletic skills, “Simen is a great skier and can get on podiums in many sports – we can’t wait to see him taking a gold medal on TV one day!”
Simen Hegstad Krüger was born in Tåsen, a pleasant suburb located about three kilometers north from the Norwegian capital of Oslo and a few steps from the famous Ullevaal football stadium. The Krüger family is passionate about sports. His dad Lars takes care of the materials, his mum Inger boasts some victories in her age group in the famous Birkebeinerrennet, the younger sister Solveig – besides getting good results in the Cross-Country National circuit - got victories in junior category in orienteering and Simen’s brother Espen is also involved in Norways National Cross-Country races.
"Already as a child I really liked skiing, but I was far from being the best in my age group. I liked doing long ski tours with my family and had no career goals of taking gold medals or anything like that. I guess at that age I didn't know exactly how good I could be and I was taking one step at a time. Most of all I was skiing because I liked it and then I entered into Lyn ski club where we were in a group of talented guys."
Simen Hegstad Krüger
Step by step
For Simen, the thrill for competitive skiing only grew when he was a teenager: «I remember that at that time there was a kind of rivalry between the other members of the club that were quite similar to my level. This kind of internal rivalry helped. I also remember that I was always trying to get in the top three in all those competitions because we would get a small prize if we finished on the podium at that time”.
According to his father, Simen has never been in a hurry to get to success and glory immidiately but managed to remain focused on the pleasure of skiing without being obsessed with results.
But by 16, Simen started training more with the focus on improving specific skills.
In the Junior World Ski Championships in Liberec (SLO) 2013, he gained his first silver medal in a title event by a second place with the Norwegian Relay team. Three years later, at the JWSC in Rasnov (ROU), Simen took home his first individual Gold medal from a title event.
His debut in the World Cup was at the prestigious Holmenkollen race in 2013 and from the season 2016/17 he landed regular top-10 results. At the Tour de Ski’s 10km F in Toblach (ITA) in 2017, Simen got his maiden World Cup victory.
Is there a Champion from the past who inspired you to start Cross-Country skiing?
"I‘d say probably the legend himself, Bjorn Dæhlie. Because he was the best skier when I started watching Cross-Country skiing on TV as a boy. I remember how good he was on skiis. Lots of time I was skiing with my dad and I imagined I was Bjorn Dæhlie and he was Thomas Alsgaard and we did little races when we go out skiing together doing a sort of commenting about our races while we were skiing. It was funny for me to be like Dæhlie on skis.”
Your Skating style is so smooth that it can be shown as an example in Cross-Country schools. What do your coaches say about your technique?
“I think I appreciate the fact that lots of people think that my Skating technique is an example to follow, that encourages me. I was working on my technique since I was a kid. Over the years we tried to eliminate some ticks of my technique. I don’t feel like it is perfect, so I am always searching for some place to improve. It’s the small things, for example watching my videos and trying to let my kicks movements and my feeling work better.”
Tell us about your Classic technique now. Do you think you still have to work on this?
“I did some improvements especially during the last years but I am still working on my Classic technique. I really want to be able to compete at the higher level both, Classic and Skating. At the beginning, I was better in Classic, but then I took big steps forward in the Skating technique. Slowly I am reaching a statisfying level in Classic as well, but I still have to work on it.”
You prefer Skating, don’t you?
“I have done equal work and training in both Classic and Skating along my career. I think that maybe some point of technique, Skating suits me better. The movements are faster and you have to use your legs more, that is better for me. It fits physically better to my body.
In Classic you push with your poles and the legs work less. Maybe also my upper body wasn’t as strong as it is now. But my goal and my ambitions for the next Olympic games is to compete in the 15km Classic together with the 50km Skating and Skiathlon.”
Rewinding the tape from the PyeongChang 2018 gold medal in Skiathlon, what memories do you have of that day? Do you think you would have won even without breaking the pole? Did that inconvenience give you a push?
“This a question that I’ve been asked many times. We’ll never know how that race would have gone if that inconvenience would not have happened. Apart from that, that day I was in the best shape I ever had, and I knew it. I can’t say if that broken pole helped my performance, but when I got in touch with the leading group I was satisfied in that moment. Then I went all in, I didn’t want to stay with the group and took the risk of attacking with 5km still to go. Maybe that incident gave me extra energy, I can’t say exactly. Skiathlon is a long and hard race and when I reached the leading group, I still had lots of energy in my body and still lots of confidence for the skating part to come.”
What do you know about the future Beijing OG 2022 Cross-Country tracks?
“Of course I would have preferred to ski there before competing in the Olympics but we didn’t have the chance so all we have are some films about tracks that we have watched. I try to imagine how the course will be and I have a sort of pictures in my head but I try not to not think about it too much. Regarding the altitude, we are having different training camps simulating those conditions and we have experience in competing in high altitude as it will be in Zhangjiakou. The experience that I have is pretty good personally and the altitude should be an advantage to me because I adapt myself pretty fast to race in altitude, so I feel that competing on those heights is more a benefit than a challenge to me.”
What do you think of the tough internal competition in Norway? Do you think it is a constant motivation or is the contest to be selected on the long run more a burden?
“I think you can look at it on both sides. When you are in training camps we know that the competition we get from each other is at the highest level. We know where the benchmark is but of course I would prefer to have it easier to get a bib to compete at the World Cup. We have to qualify and that’s a challenge. We have to achieve good races before the Olympics or World Championships. We can’t only focus to those title events but must rather focus on the races before to get the chance to be selected, it’s challenging but I don’t think is a damage, rather a resource. We have such a good team and we have only four spots available for every race. We are at least 8-10 guys fighting for that spot and for the medal. This is the reason why we have such a good team as the challenge pushes you every day.
Maybe for the younger skiers who aren’t in the National Team already, this is tougher. Because even if they are really good skiers, they do not have so many opportunities to compete in the World Cup. I remember when I was 20 or 22 years old. I didn’t have lots of chances. But when I got it, I had to show immediately what I was able to do in order to be in World Cup again. It’s challenging but you have to make the most of those chances. The national quotas are going down, less and less skiers are allowed to start at the World Cup for big nations, so I understand the frustration for all great skiers outside of the National Team, that still did not get the opportunity to compete.”
Do you think there should be more top athletes in World Cup and not limited bibs per country quota like for example at the Tour de France with only the worlds 180 best cyclists?
“I think it wouldn’t hurt the international interest if the best skiers would compete in World Cup. But we can’t compare it with cycling as the two sports are so different how they are built up. In Cycling, they have private teams. Maybe in the future, we have that system too and won’t use the national quota anymore. It’s a long way to change Cross-Country, but maybe it’s going to be exciting to have only the best.”