Ragnhild Haga is one of three Norwegian skiers ruled out with COVID-19 ©Getty Images

COVID-19 outbreaks in Norway and Finland have reduced the star power of the teams racing at the first Cross-Country World Cup event of the season in Ruka.

Finland's Iivo Niskanen - the Olympic champion over 15 kilometres - was set to be one of the favourites for Saturday's (November 26) 10km classic race, but will now miss it after testing positive for COVID-19.

Niskanen won the 15km classic contest at this World Cup leg a year ago.

Norway's team has also been impacted, with Ragnhild Haga and Marte Skaanes ruled out of the women's races and Sindre Bjørnstad Skar to miss the men's.

All three have tested positive for the virus. 

Sweden's Jonna Sundling - a triple Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic medallist including winning the individual sprint - does not have COVID-19, but another illness has seen her ruled out.

Russian and Belarusian athletes will be absent too, still banned from International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) competition because of the war in Ukraine.

However, there are two returning winners from when Ruka opened last season. 

Maja Dahlqvist and Frida Karlsson - sprint and 10km victors, respectively - have left the Swedish training set-up but are in the team, and headline Sweden's selection.

Therese Johaug won the women's 10km pursuit a year ago, but the Norwegian great has now retired.

Russians Alexander Terentyev and Alexander Bolshunov both won men's races a year ago but will be absent this time around, like Niskanen.

Maja Dahlqvist is in Sweden's selection despite no longer training with the national team ©Getty Images
Maja Dahlqvist is in Sweden's selection despite no longer training with the national team ©Getty Images

Notable inclusions in the Norwegian squad are Johannes Høsflot Klæbo - the reigning overall men's World Cup champion who won four medals at Beijing 2022 - and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg on the women's side.

Østberg was denied a place at Beijing 2022 and missed most of the last World Cup season because of health issues.

The FIS Cross-Country World Cup season starts tomorrow with sprint races for women and men.

Classic races over 10km are scheduled on Saturday, before the race weekend finishes with 20km freestyle pursuits the following day.