Friday, January 29, 2010

Norwegian Olympians take to Sun Valley trails

2002 Nordic team encountered a cougar north of Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

World Cup Nordic leader and gold medal hopeful Petter Northug took a short break from training at the Sun Valley Nordic Center on Thursday. One of his coaches, Steinar Mundal, waits nearby. Photo by David N. Seelig

Cross-country skiers may see some faster-than-usual red jerseys coursing around the Sun Valley Nordic Center this week and next.

Seven members of the Norwegian Olympic Nordic ski team arrived in Sun Valley on Tuesday to finish off their training regimen before the Winter Games begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Feb. 12. They will be working out four hours per day on the course until Feb 6.

Coach Steinar Mundal watched his four male and three female distance skiers take to the Sun Valley trails Thursday morning under sunny, "bluebird" skies. They were fighting jet lag but were in good spirits.

"This is better than where we train in Norway," Mundal said. "We don't groom every day over there. There are often good classic tracks, but it is not this good for skating.''

Sun Valley Hotels Director Dick Andersen arranged for the team to come to Sun Valley after the Norwegian Olympic Team doctors called in March looking for a place to train before the Vancouver Games.

"We are giving them a good deal," Andersen said. "It is expensive to bring these athletes over here."

Norwegian-born Jon Engen, two-time U. S. Olympic biathlete and cross-country skier, works as a teacher and coach at the Sun Valley Nordic Center. He is also a local liaison for the Norwegian team.

In 2002, the Norwegian Olympians were training near Galena Lodge when team members spotted a cougar on the Harriman Trail.

"That made the front-page news in Oslo, Norway, that year," Andersen said.

A cross-country skier himself, Andersen has plans to attend the Winter Games next month.

Gold-medal hopeful Petter Northug, 24, was training at the Nordic Center on Thursday. He is the current World Cup racing leader.

Mundal said he is quite famous in Norway.

"We have to protect him from the crowds," he said, jokingly.

Upon arriving in Sun Valley, Northug decided to forego competition at the upcoming World Cup races in Canmore, Alberta, in favor of staying on the trails in Sun Valley.

He likes the variable terrain and said he is not afraid of the cougars. He said if he sees one he will just go faster.

"It's OK. I need some speed training," he quipped.

Tony Evans:

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