Norwegian cross-country skier Vilde Nilsen only raced in four World Cup races during the 2020-21 season. But that was enough to make her performance unforgettable.
The 20-year-old standing skier won all four races at the World Cup in Vuokatti, Finland in March and finished second overall despite not being able to compete at the earlier World Cup in Slovenia.
“I was kind of shocked because it should almost be impossible to take a second place overall in the World Cup when you haven’t been competing in Planica, but with four victories, it’s possible so I’m very happy with that,” Nilsen said of finishing second to Ukraine’s Liudmyla Liashenko. “I’ve been training a lot this winter and now I can really see the results.”
The golden sweep at the World Cup was particularly important for Nilsen as she gets ready for her biggest season yet. The 2021-22 season will feature both the World Para Snow Sports Championships on her home course in Lillehammer, Norway, followed in eight weeks by the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
New plans, same spirit
Nilsen came on the international scene in December 2016 and quickly showed the Para Nordic world that she is a one to watch.
She won her first major medal in the sprint classic at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, then only 17 years old. She also has two cross-country skiing Crystal Globes, four world titles and a bronze in the biathlon sprint.
Her big goal for the 2020-21 season was to win gold at her home World Para Snow Sports Championships in Lillehammer, but in late November, the championships were postponed due the COVID-19 pandemic. They will now take place from 8 to 23 January 2022.
“At first, I thought it was a heavy message. I have trained purposefully for the World Championships this year and I have put a lot of hard work down. But I understand the decisions and I think it will be a much better World Championships next year in 2022,” Nilsen said. “Then the spectators can come and cheer for us, and hopefully there will be a bigger World Championship without coronavirus.”
Her goal for the competition remains the same - to hear the Norwegian national anthem while standing on the podium.
“I haven’t been hearing that song this year, but I am looking forward to maybe hearing it in Lillehammer,” Nilsen said.
While COVID-related restrictions have made life more challenging for the young skier, Nilsen did not let the pandemic get her down. Instead, she used it as an opportunity to have more training camps and thus compensate for only racing at one World Cup stage.
“The coronavirus situation did not affect my training so much this year. I have trained most of what I was supposed to,” Nilsen said. “I do not find it so difficult to keep the motivation up for future competitions. For me it’s important to train as best as possible regardless of whether there will be competitions or not.
“My motivation now is to train for the World Championships and Paralympics next year.”
Although the pandemic did not prevent Nilsen from training, it did bring significant financial challenges.
“I moved to Lillehammer in the autumn of 2020 to train for the World Championships which actually were supposed to be in February 2021,” the skier said. “I was actually just going to stay in Lillehammer until April 2021, and after that move back to Tromso. Now I most likely have to live in Lillehammer for another year. This can be difficult financially.”
Competing in two major events held with a two-month interval will also be difficult for a lot of athletes. Nilsen plans to focus only on training in the lead up to Lillehammer 2021 and Beijing 2022, without time for school or work.
“I will continue the hard work and I will be training a lot more this year because this is probably the most important season coming,” Nilsen said. “It will be a long and hectic season next year with both World Championship and Paralympic Games in one year. I think I will be able to have a good shape through the whole season, but I will prioritise having the best shape towards the Paralympics.”
The cross-country specialist also plans to give herself an extra challenge and add one or two biathlon races to her schedule. Nilsen’s preferred biathlon event is the sprint.
As Para snow sports athletes head into another post-season that is disrupted by the pandemic, Nilsen offered some advice to the community:
“Stay positive and keep your motivation high. Eventually everything will become more and more as it was before the pandemic. The best thing we can do is to prevent the infection from spreading and do as the authorities say. I’m really looking forward to us being able to compete in the World Cup again, travel around, and give hugs again.”
* Carina Edlinger is an Austrian Para Nordic skiing world champion and Paralympic medallist who studies journalism. She interviewed Vilde Nielsen for World Para Snow Sports.