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Went Skydiving to Win the World Cup

April 15, 2024

Skydiving and other measures Harald Østberg Amundsen has taken to transition from being a good international skier to the best throughout an entire season. His next project is to surpass Klæbo.

Systematic, targeted, and analytical: Harald Østberg Amundsen leaves little to chance. The 25-year-old Norwegian from Asker, outside of Oslo, exhibits a level of professionalism in his approach to his career well beyond his years.

Madshus caught up with the 2024 Overall FIS Cross-Country World Cup winner on physical training, mental training and what’s next for the best skier in the world. 

Photo by: Nordic Focus

What have you done in order to go from being a good international skier to the best throughout an entire season?
“That's a good question, and I'm not sure if I have a definitive answer to it. But I believe it's the little things, overall, that have allowed me to develop significantly in the styles and disciplines that I wasn't as proficient in before,” says Amundsen, and elaborates:

“When I joined the national team, skating and skating individual starts were what I excelled at, but this year I suddenly have podium placements in both classic and skate sprints. I also have World Cup victories in both skating and classic on distance, so I've taken big steps forward.”

More broadly, Amundsen believes it's largely about experience: enduring the pressure of expectations weekend after weekend, as well as handling everything around traveling and waiting, changes in plans and routines, and still being able to maintain focus.

“Perhaps that's what sets apart a national team athlete who competes in World Cup races almost every weekend from one who doesn't. You have to learn to withstand that strain,” he says.

Do you have any techniques that you use to maintain focus when things build up in your head?
“I start by making sure I’m not wasting energy on things I can't control. I can't do anything about Klæbo skiing fast. Or if the journey gets delayed and I can't train as planned. You have to tolerate waiting in line, cope with changes in the schedule and dare to skip some training sessions. Things like that.”

Skydiving to win the World Cup
Harald Østberg Amundsen trains a lot, mentally too. Specifically, the 25-year-old works with one of Norway's most well-known and respected mental trainers, Erik Bertrand Larsen. The two have been working together for several years.

“I'm diligent about being well-prepared. I really believe in that, and I see that it’s working,” Amundsen says.

His mental training depends on both the season and general tasks, as well as specific situations and issues.

“This fall, we worked a lot on pushing limits. I went skydiving, among other things. That was a lot of fun. Then, towards the end of the season, we talked a lot about how to really muster the strength for the final ski races even when you're tired, and how to maintain the lead so I could win the Overall World Cup,” Amundsen says.

Photo by: Nordic Focus

Fun facts: Erik Bertrand Larsen was a former paratrooper. He also worked with former Olympian, and World Champion Cross-Country skier, Petter Northug (NOR) and the Norwegian Cross-Country ski team during the 2011 Cross-Country Ski World Championships in Oslo.

“Sometimes it's important to put things in perspective. Say to myself that ‘in a month, I'll be done,’ and that I'm going to be so proud of myself if I push myself this month. That I'm going to prepare just as well for ski races at the end of March as if it were the season opener at Beitostølen,” says Amundsen, and elaborates:  

“I think it's important to challenge yourself to stay mentally sharp, and to be a bit hard with yourself at times. It will pay off in the form of good performances.”

Dare to endure discomfort 
When it comes to the mental aspect of individual competitions, Amundsen focuses on coming up with a plan for the race before the event. 

“The day before the race, I make sure to set aside a few minutes to go through the race in my head, think about how I'm going to manage the race and how I'm going to tackle different parts of the course,” he says.

Amundsen further explains that for him, there's a big difference between sprint and distance races, especially on the mental level.

“For the actual race, it's about starting out with a focused mindset. In distance races, it might mean that I have to ‘switch on’ and push myself, be aggressive and dare to endure discomfort for a while. Before sprint races, it's often that I need to calm down,” Amundsen says.

Others log more hours  
Amundsen estimates that he logs between 860 to 900 hours a year in physical training. Few raise their eyebrows at that. In fact, many of his competitors log well over 1000 hours annually.

“There are plenty of racers who train more than me, and I think there are few aspiring skiers in Norway who train too little. We have a tough and good training culture. But for me, I try to see how I can increase the quality of the training I put in and train better than those I compete against. That's part of the key to success for me,” says Amundsen, and continues:  

“I'm constantly looking for workouts that challenge me in new and different ways, and I've dared to push myself without discarding the entire program that worked before. Finding the balance between gradually increasing the volume, listening to my body, and resting when I feel I need it, is something I've been good at.”

So, what will it take to beat Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (NOR), the man who won 16 World Cup races this season, and the racer most people consider the ultimate yard stick?
“Ha, ha. The short answer is that I have to get better,” says Amundsen, pausing to think. 

“I've taken huge steps this season, and it's important to be satisfied when you've taken big steps. But then I also have to figure out how to build on that. At least it's inspiring to see that I've taken a big step this winter. It gives me faith that I can take another big step next winter too. And then I'll gradually approach him.”

What do you consider your most important strengths, maybe specifically against Klæbo?
“As of now, I might be slightly better than him in skate distance races with individual starts. Aside from that, he beats me in most things when he's in shape. But I think I have more to gain in terms of training volume, and that I can improve more there. In addition, Klæbo is extremely good at technique, and I definitely have more to learn there too. So, I think I just have to continue addressing things I'm not good enough at. There's still progress to be made. The same goes for explosiveness and sprinting: I've made big strides, but there's still a lot to work on.”

Harald Østberg Amundsen also points out that equipment makes a huge difference, and credits both his skis and the support team for being able to take home the big crystal ball this season. “I’ve been on the podium ten times this season. I won the Tour de Ski and the Overall World Cup. I’ve consistently been the best skier in the world from November through March. You can’t do that without great equipment. I have such great support from Madshus, and there’s a great community among the Madshus racers. We support each other, share and cheer each other on.”

Photo by: Nordic Focus