Cross-country skiing is a popular winter sport worldwide, and those who pursue it as a professional career are among some of the most renowned athletes.
12 Best Cross-Country Skiers of All Time
1. Marit Bjørgen (2000 – 2018)
With many titles under her belt, the Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen is famous worldwide for her passion and incredible performance for the sport. The 37-year-old Norwegian overall and sprint cross-country skiing superstar was born in Trondheim, Norway, a place well-known for producing world-class ski athletes.
Marit Bjørgen won countless titles for her country. She ranks first in all-time Cross-Country World Cup rankings with 114 individual victories to her name. Moreover, the female Norwegian superstar claimed 184 world cup podiums in cross-country skiing. She also won 26 medals at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 10 km, 30 km, pursuit, sprint, relay, and team sprint events.
Furthermore, Marit Bjørgen has achieved 15 medals at the Olympic Winter Games in the 10 km, 30 km, pursuit, sprint, relay, and team sprint competitions. Of these medals, there are 8 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze ones.
Note: We also included her in our list of the most inspiring female cross-country skiers.
2. Bjørn Dæhlie (1989 – 1999)
Bjørn Dæhlie is a former Norwegian cross-country skier and currently a businessman. The 54-year-old represented Norway in many cross-country skiing competitions from 1992 to 1999. He is one of the most successful male cross-country skiers of all time.
During his successful career, Dæhlie won 29 medals at the Olympics and World Championships combined. At the Olympics, he won 8 gold and 4 silver medals in 10 km, pursuit, 30 km, 50 km, and relay. Similarly, Dæhlie earned 9 gold, 5 silver, and 3 bronze medals in 10 km, 15 km freestyle, pursuit, 30 km, 50 km, and relay at the world championships. He also won the Nordic World Cup 6 times while finishing second in 1994 and 1998.
However, due to a back injury in a roller skiing incident, Dæhlie’s skiing career ended early. He announced his retirement in 2001. Since then, Bjørn Dæhlie has become a successful businessman and a cultural star in Norway. He has been featured in many advertising campaigns and has his own ski clothing brand.
3. Johannes Høsflot Klæbo (2016 – present)
25-year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo is yet another Norwegian cross-country skier known for his passion and enthusiasm towards the sport. The Norwegian superstar is the youngest male in history to win a FIS Cross-Country World Cup, Tour de Ski World Championship event, and an Olympic event.
For his 2018 Winter Olympics debut, he bagged 3 gold medals in the men’s sprint, team sprint, and 4×10 relay events. At the World Championships, he won 3 gold in the individual sprint, team sprint, and 4×10 relay events and another bronze in a sprint event.
Klæbo’s exceptional skills also lead him to become the most successful male sprinter in World Cup history during the 2019-2020 World Cup. He also holds the record for the most individual victories (47), overall titles (2), and sprint titles (4) won. Currently, he is the most successful male overall race winner of all time.
4. Gunde Svan (1982 – 1991)
The former Swedish champion Gunde Svan is considered one of the best cross-country skiers of all time. The 59-year-old represented Sweden in many international competitions and claimed many titles.
At the Winter Olympics, he won 6 medals with 4 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in the 15 km, 30 km, 50 km, and relay events. Furthermore, the Swedish superstar won 7 gold, 3 silver, and 1 bronze in freestyle, 30 km, 50 km, and relay events at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.
Svan also stood victorious in one 15 km and two 50 km races at the Holmenkollen ski festival. Plus, he achieved the Svenska Dagbladet gold medal in 1984 and the Holmenkollen medal in 1985.
5. Petter Northug (2005 – 2018)
Petter Northug is a 36-year-old former Norwegian cross-country skier and double Olympic champion. He is famous for his remarkable skiing skills and eccentric off-the-snow behavior. With his skills, Petter won several medals for Norway in multiple international cross-country skiing events.
He has a total of 20 World Championship and Winter Olympic medals to his name. These include 13 gold and 3 silver medals in 15 km, 30 km, 50 km, sprint, team sprint, and relay at the World Ski Championships. He also holds 2 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze medal in 50 km race, relay, sprint, and team sprint competitions at the Olympics.
In addition, Petter Northug also achieved 18 individual wins at the FIS Cross-Country World Cup, with 13 podium places. He is also a record holder for his impressive 13 stage wins at the Tour de Ski event.
6. Therese Johaug (2007 – present)
Therese Johaug is a Norwegian cross-country skier regarded among the most famous athletes in Norway. On multiple occasions, the 33-year-old skier represented Norway in overall and sprint skiing discipline at the World Ski Championships and the Olympics. She has secured 10 gold medals for individual wins and 3 gold medals in relays.
However, her career came to a halt when she tested positive for using a performance-enhancing drug in October 2016. Consequently, Johaug was suspended for 18 months. But this is not the end for her, as she is currently eyeing a comeback.
7. Dario Cologna (2007-2022)
The four-time Olympic champion Dario Cologna is Switzerland’s most popular overall and distance cross-country skiing maestro. During his 15-year successful career, Dario accomplished memorable victories in international cross-country skiing events.
Among his achievements, 35-year-old Dario has four World Cup victories under his belt. He also won 4 Olympic gold medals in 15 km individual and 30 km skiathlon competitions. Furthermore, he bagged 1 gold and 2 silver medals in the 30 km skiathlon and 50 km mass start at the World Championships.
He also has 4 victories in the Tour de Ski event. However, Dario announced his early retirement following the 2021-2022 season despite his successful career.
8. Justyna Kowalczyk (2002 – 2018)
Justyna Kowalczyk is a Polish cross-country skier renowned for her impressive performances in overall and sprint disciplines in the World Cup. The 38-year-old cross-country skiing star is a two-time Olympic and World Cup Champion who has been representing Poland since 2000.
Kowalczyk is the only skier to win the Tour de Ski event 4 times in a row. She also shares the record of winning the FIS Cross-Country World Cup 3 times consecutively with Marjo Matikainen. Moreover, Justyna Kowalczyk is a record holder with 14 wins and 29 podiums at the Tour de Ski event. She also earned the Vasaloppet women’s edition in 2015.
9. Thomas Wassberg (1982 – 1988)
Thomas Wassberg is one of the most successful Swedish overall cross-country skiers from the 1980s, famous for his fast-skating style. He has many victories and medals under his name in various competitions. The 65-year-old secured 4 Olympic gold medals in the 15 km, 50 km, and relay events. Wassberg also served as the Olympic flag bearer for his country in 1988.
In addition, he earned 3 gold, 3 silver, and 1 bronze medal in 15 km, 30 km, 50 km, and relay events at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. He also won the 15 km race twice and 50 km thrice at the Holmenkollen ski festival.
Thomas Wassberg was awarded the Holmenkollen medal in 1980. In addition, he secured a Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal. Since his retirement, the Swedish star has been featured in Swedish Radio and multiple TV broadcasts.
10. Bill Koch (1976 – 1984)
The 66-year-old Bill Koch is an American overall cross-country skier known for his classical performances at the international level. He is the first American cross-country skier ever to win a medal in an international competition by securing third place in the European Junior Championships.
His most important achievement was however not his athletic performance, but his ingenuity and technique to perfect and popularize a new cross-country skiing technique today known as skate skiing. Before, it was all traditional diagonal stride (classic skiing), but as the FIS gradually realized the popularity and hidden potential in the skating style, they allowed new freestyle events to be part of international cross-country skiing races.
At the 1982 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, he won a bronze medal in the 30km events. He also became the first non-European candidate to receive a medal in cross-country skiing at the World Championships event. He holds a silver medal for placing second in the 30km event at the 1976 Winter Olympics. Moreover, at the 1992 Winter Olympics, Bill was the flag-bearer for the USA.
11. Aleksander Bolshunov (2017 – present)
Aleksander Bolshunov is a 25-year-old Russian cross-country skier known for his commitment to his professional career. He is a two-time winner of the 14th and 15th Tour de Ski events. Bolshunov is also the first male post-Soviet World Cup champion, standing victorious in the 2020 and 2021 World Cups.
Bolshunov has represented Russia in overall and distance cross-country skiing competitions at the Olympic Games and the World Cup. Until now, he has won 4 medals at the Olympics, including 3 silver medals in 50 km mass start, relay, and team sprint, and 1 bronze medal in the sprint event.
The Russian superstar has also won 8 medals at the World Championships with 1 gold medal in the 30 km skiathlon, 6 silvers in 50 km mass start, relay and team sprint, and another bronze in the team sprint.
12. Herman ‘Jackrabbit’ Smith-Johannsen (1875 – 1987)
Herman Smith-Johannsen was a Norwegian skier who introduced cross-country skiing to Canada and North America. He was considered one of the best overall Norwegian skiers of all time in his youth. Johannsen is praised worldwide for promoting cross-country skiing and inspiring generations of skiers in Canada during his 111 years of life. He is also acknowledged for constructing multiple ski jumps and blazing trails throughout numerous locations in Canada. The Jackrabbit Ski Trail and the Cross Country Canada’s Jackrabbit program in Canada is named in honor of Johannesen.