It’s been a few weeks to let the dust settle from the World Cup season and to see which athletes would continue or call it quits. Even with Kristin Størmer-Steira deciding to continue her career for a couple more years, this is one of the strongest retiring classes we’ve seen in a long time. What interests me the most is how young the retirees are getting, the average age of this year is around 29-30 years old. Seems like with advances in training methodologies and equipment, this sport is tending to lean to slightly younger athletes now. Here it goes, an homage to the athletes leaving the World Cup stage…
Petra Majdic (1979) – A Slovenian that captivated the ski world over the past couple years has had her rise and fall (read: Olympic Games spint) recorded closely and has earned the respect of her fellow competitors and the ski world in general. By far and away the happiest athlete on the circuit, she always had a smile on her face when the cameras were on her before the race started.Her career was illustrious and she went out on top winning the final sprint race of the season in Stockholm which earned her the third Sprint Crystal Globe of her career and the third in the past four years.
Her wrap sheet is extremely impressive as she sits in fourth all-time in wins (24) behind Bjørgen, Valbe and Skari and just ahead Belundo; not bad company. She is second all-time in sprint wins, behind Bjørgen. Add 33 World Cup podiums and her most famous medal of all, her bronze from Vancouver and you have a massive talent that is leaving while still one of the best in the world.
Pirjo Muranen (1981) – Another sprinter, another athletes that leaving the game while on top of the world. She won her last race ever at Finnish Nationals and was one of the most consistent sprinters on the world stage during the past decade. She was the World Sprint Champion from 2001 and was always a sure bet to make it past the quarter-finals. In the past couple years, she was never put in the same group as Majdic, Follis, Bjorgen and more recently Randall for best sprinters in the world, but her leaving the stage will leave a decent hole to fill in the talent pool.
Arianna Follis (1977) – A skier that was still in her prime. Follis, a freestyle specialist, finished third in the World Cup Overall and second in the Sprint Cup this year. Talking about leaving with your head held high. It seemed like Follis was aging like a fine wine, and her final year was by far and away her most successful. The Italian has been the backbone of the nations women’s team for numerous years and her presents will be dearly missed. Italy will still have Longa and Genuin to lead the charge, but without Follis, those medals in the team sprint will be extremely hard to come by in the next couple years until new talent comes up. With three World Cup victories and the sprint World Championship from Liberec, Follis is leaving the sport with only an Olympic medal missing from her trophy room.
Lina Andersson (1981) – The Swede hangs up the skis after having a fairly successful career. Her best days are far behind her and was a pioneer of sorts for the Swedish women before the likes of Falk, Ingemarsdotter, Kalla and the next generation athletes came through. She led the way and her career included two victories in 102 World Cup starts, but the career highlight was her silver medal from the 2005 World Champs behind teammate Emelie Öhrstig.
Vincent Vittoz (1975) – Known for his skating prowess, Vittoz had been the face of the French team for 10+ years. He’s been the most decorated French cross-country skier of all time and at the age of 35-years old, still had a couple decent performances in his final year including a third place in the Lahti pursuit. In 179 World Cup starts, Vittoz earned seven victories and added a World Championship gold from Oberstorf in the 30km pursuit.
It’s really too bad that he endured that bad left thigh abductor injury during the relay in Gällivare which saw him miss six crucial weeks of racing and training. A brutal injury to sideline him and minimize his chances going into the World Champs.
In the past couple days, he’s been offered the job of being the new French U23 head coach. It will be interesting to see if he takes the job. If he does, the French youth system just got a massive boost with the amount of knowledge and experience Vittoz has to offer.
Jens Filbrich (1979) – Like Grey, 11 year vet a journeyman for his country. He was never a star and skied in the shadows of his much more illustrious teammates (Sommerfeldt, Teichmann and Angerer all won the World Cup Overall) for his career, but that doesn’t mean that he was a poor skier. The classic specialist was a very good skier in his own right and in 127 World Cup starts, he earned five podiums and helped Germany to five World Championship team medals and earned a bronze medal in Sapporo in the 50km mass start.
Emmanuel Jonnier (1975) – Another stronghold of the French team for many years, Jonnier’s best years were definitely behind him. He was an integral part of the French relay team, but in the past year, Miranda and Duvillard had skipped past him in the pecking order. The majority of the last season was spent on the Alpen Cup circuit with only three World Cup appearances. In 96 World Cup starts, Jonnier earned three World Cup podiums with his best race in Falun in 2007 where he was 0.4 seconds behind Angerer for the win.
Jens Arne Svartedal (1976) – Unlike the majority of the ladies who retired, it’s safe to say that Svartedal’s best years were far behind him. The 35-year old was one of the best classic specialists of his time and his career was highlighted by becoming World Champion at the 2007 World Champs in Sapporo in the classic sprint. Primarily known as a sprinter, Svartedal could throw down distance results too as he showed and five of his 22 World Cup medals came in the 15km classic including his last ever World Cup podium in which he finished 2nd in Val di Dentro in February 2009. He was one of the more consistent skiers of the last decade and scored at least one World Cup medal in every year from 2000-2009. His rap sheet is even more impressive as he stepped on the World Cup podium 22 times in his career and hit the start line 120 times. That’s an average of one podium every six races.
George Grey (1979) – A stalwart for the Canadian team through his 10-year career. He was the man before Kershaw and Harvey took over the show. I remember him coming to a training camp in BC when I was in high school and giving a talk to us younger ones. He told us to never gave up on your dreams; that was in 2003. He told us he was never the fastest in Canada when he was our age and at Nationals would finish 10th-20th. He became fast by making sacrifices. Up to that date, one of his proudest moments was to hang onto Axel Teichmann for 5km after being passed by the U23 standout at a World cup race the year before.
Fast forward to the 2010 Olympics and Grey finishes in 8th place in the 30km pursuit on home snow in the province he grew up in. Easily the race of a lifetime and for that whole season, he skied amongst the best in the world, continually scoring points in every World Cup race he entered.
Unfortunately, his final season on the World Cup is one to forget. A combination of his first child being born and an injury resulted in only five World Cup starts and his best placing was 32nd (78th, 84th, 79th and 68th were the other race finishes). However, while he didn’t finish his World Cup career the way he would have liked, he performances at Canadian Nationals in Canmore wrapped up a career that spanned a decade as he won the 10km free, 15km classic and most importantly the 50km free mass start in the very last race of his competitive career; a story book ending.
Stefan Kuhn (1979) – Kuhn’s ski career is one of the more interesting stories. After being a stand-out junior, he decided to leave the sport in his early 20′s, but came back and skied his way back onto the Canadian National Team as a sprint specialist and in 2005 had his first of 31 World Cup starts. His best World Cup finish was 15th in Kuusamo 2008, but his career highlight was probably qualifying 10th at the 2010 Olympics in front of friends and family to ultimately finish 15th.
Andrus Veerapalu (1971) – Well what can I say, he WAS the big time racer of this generation. Always showed up and threw down when it was necessary. While there was always speculation, now we know for sure. He’s the Johann Muelegg of this decade.
It leaves a bitter tastes in all our mouths especially when we realize that since he “won” the 15km in Liberec, that robbed Kris Freeman of the bronze medal that he truly deserved. Instead, Freeman will never get that recognition thanks to a life-long cheater; and that is a depressing thought.
In addition to Freeman, Veerpalu robbed the Norwegian Erling Jevne a bronze from the 2001 Lahti World Champs and Swede Niklas Jonsson from what would be his only World Champs medal from 1999 in Ramsau. On the Olympic side, it was Anders Aukland from the 15km in 2002 and Rotchev from the 50km and the German Andreas Schlutter in the 15km in Torino. For those athletes, it will be years after until they finally get that medal, long after they can capitalize on potential monetary gains through sponsorships.
These caught dopers have much more repercussion that just their own and their countries tarnished reputation, they helped reduce potential increases in monetary means for those that finished behind them. A very important part of skiing, especially for those athletes that don’t come from traditional ski markets such as Russia, Sweden and Norway.
It reminds me of when Lazutina and Danilova were caught using darbepoetin after the 2002 Olympics which turned Beckie Scott’s bronze medal into the gold. How much more recognition would Scott earned had those two athletes been caught before the Olymics. It took Beckie two and a half years to finally be recognized as an Olympic Champnion. Would she have gotten those big sponsorship deals that Crawford got after her gold in Torino? Likewise, with Freeman winning bronze in Liberec, how much more press and potential sponsors would he have gotten?
Perhaps the FIS could open an escrow account where a certain percentage of medallists reward money from Olympics and World Champs would go until they retire. I know that skiers don’t have the most lavish lifestyles, so instead of an escrow account for those making under a certain amount, perhaps a hefty fine AND suspension which I think should be lengthened to four years. The fine could be redistributed to those athletes that went for the moral high road when competing in the sport they love, but ultimately came up short to said cheater.
I’ve heard and read the defiant attitude of those backing Veerpalu and I’m not convinced. Chris from NCP touches on it a bit, but why would Veerpalu retire right before the World Champs, and keep the positive “A” test quiet instead of fighting the test from the beginning?
So far the Facebook to support Veerpalu has almost 69,000 members, but unfortunately, this situation doesn’t involved a democratic vote so the number of people doesn’t matter. Veerpalu has already tested positive TWICE (A and B samples) and as it stands now, Veerpalu is guilty until proven innocent.
That’s it for me. The Veerpalu story was irregular case, but usually watching for interesting ski news in April and May is like watching snow melt. I’ll be back with a round-up of the on-goings from the rest month for the ski world.
Til then, have a great spring.
The last race of the season, and it was spring skiing conditions as the mercury was hovering around +7°C while the snow was a perfect at -5°C. Today’s race was more of a victory lap for Bjørgen and her amazing season since second place Kowalczyk started 74 seconds behind the Norwegian. With that said, the odds for today’s race were Bjørgen at 1.02 (sure thing) for the win while the rest of the field was 10.00.
With 74 seconds between Bjørgen and Kowalczyk and another 80 seconds between the Pole and Johaug, all the excitement would be for the race for fourth place.
So while Bjørgen, Kowalczyk and Johaug were skiing their own race by themselves, the race for fourth was heating up as Follis, Haag and Jacobsen had bunched together early and began to work together to close the gap between themselves and Kalla.
Going up Mörderbacken the first time, you could see that even though Bjørgen was out in front, she certainly wasn’t taking the race easy as her heart rate was at 94% of her max. At 2.8km, the gap between Kowalczyk and Bjørgen was only increased by three seconds.
Kalla was having a good day and was steadily closing the gap between herself and Johaug, while Follis and Jacobsen were closing the gap too. At 2.8km at the top of Morderbacken, Johaug’s gap between Kalla, Follis and Jacobsen was 17 seconds. Haag was dropping off the back of Jacobsen and was now sitting eight seconds behind the Norwegian.
We could see how big the gap was at the front as Bjørgen started her second lap and was going out of the stadium, Kowalczyk was coming into the stadium and sat 1:28 back, 14 seconds lost in the first 5km.
The race for fourth and to a certain extent third was heating up as Johaug was only 14 seconds ahead of the Kalla, Follis, Jacobsen trio as they continued to work well together. Haag was still along in 7th and say 22 seconds behind Jacobsen and 23 seconds ahead of Majdic and Størmer-Steira who were battling for 8th place.
The last time up Mörderbacken, the gap had stagnated on the second lap between the lead two as Kowalczyk lost only one second in the first 2.8km of the second lap. In behind them, it was a thrilling fight for third as Follis was only 15 meters behind Johaug coming into the base while Jacobsen was another 20 meters back as they had dropped Kalla. The coaches were screaming at Johaug to tell her how close Follis was and going up Morderbacken as able to find another gear and sat seven seconds ahead of the Italian, but still had 2.2km left to the finish.
In the stadium, it was all smiles for both Bjørgen and Kowalczyk as their World Cup season came to a finish and they both celebrated as they came across the finish line. The fight for third was not so laid-back as Johaug had to keep going all the way to the finish-line as Follis and Jacobsen was only 25 meters behind the Norwegian. Johaug was able to hold them off, but it was a fight for fourth as Follis and Jacobsen were side-by-side coming up the finish hill, but the Italian did enough to hold her off.
In behind, it was Kalla for 6th while Haag and Størmer-Steira had a sprint finish which went to the Norwegian. In 9th was the elated Majdic who had an ear-to-ear grin and as she came across the finish line and a service man put on a cooking apron on her to signify a change in lifestyle. Finally, it was a made sprint for 10th between six athletes, but it was Ingemarsdotter to out-lunge Fessel.
1. Marit Bjørgen
2. Justyna Kowalczyk
A really great feeling before the start of the race with Kowalczyk wearing a headband saying “Goodbye Petra” while Majdic had “Goodbye! I Love You” written in black tape on her butt. Shows the respect and friendship that is created over the years on the World Cup stage.
The race within today’s race was actually won by Follis who had the fastest time. The it was Norwegian’s that took 2nd-6th. Jacobsen had a great race as she worked together with Follis for the large majority to catch Johaug who had today’s 3rd fastet time. Bjørgen was next, the Kristoffersen and Størmer-Steira. The story-book ending for Størmer-Steira was so close as she was only 3.1 seconds out of 4th place today.
Amazingly, Kowalczyk had the 18th fastest time, but that can be attributed to the victory lap syndrome and had no one to push her or no one to catch the who race while almost every athlete (except Bjørgen) were within eye shot of other athletes to keep them going.
Other performance highlights included a great race from Randall too who tied Marte Elden for the 14th fastest time today which landed her 16th overall while France’s youngster Laure Barthelemy had today’s 8th fastest time which moved her from 22nd to 17th.
The World Cup Finale was rather anti-climatic, something Capol and the rest of the FIS committee have been trying to reverse with the introduction of the min-tour. Instead of having a great last race with intensity and excitement, the race toady was more like a show loop not only for Bjørgen, but also Kowalczyk. Yes, they still worked very hard throughout the race, but the competition wasn’t there. I believe they are going in the right direction, but they need to tinker with the formula just a little more to get it right, such as adjusting the sprint bonuses or taking them out all together.
Having said that, the atmosphere today definitely had a year-end race feel to it that you could feel where ever you watched the race, whether it was in Falun or in front of your TV/computer screen. The crowds were great all along the course and many of the athletes were all smiles as they took off their skis after the race. Even service men were passing around champagne bottles in the finishing pen. The amazing weather definitely contributed to the festive mood.
I’ll be back a little later with the men’s race.
Sorry about the delayed race report, meant to get it out last night but it never happened so here it is now. It was spring-like conditions for the women, with air temperature hovering around +2.5 and snow at zero. The women were doing 2.5km loops, two for each technique for a total of 10km. The start-list was fully stocked with most of the big names and had a total of 69 women starting the race.
With a shortened distance, there was no time to dilly-dally and naturally Kowalczyk was the athlete to start pushing the pace early. At 1.4km, there was already numerous gaps in the field and eight seconds separating the top 14. Coming down into the stadium, the hairpin caused trouble again as Johaug was leading, but lost control and fell. Coming around the for the start of the second lap, there was a lead pack of nine athletes.
After recovering from her fall, Johaug made her way to the front again and dictated the pace coming up the big hill and was able to drop Saarinen, Kalla and Haag in the process. At the top of the hill, it was down to five athletes (Johaug, Bjørgen, Kowalczyk, Follis and Longa).
For the first sprint bonus it was Bjørgen being challenged by Longa with Johaug in third.
Coming into the pit-stop, the lead five were still together, but coming out Bjørgen was all over the place and tripped herself and ate snow as she was attempting to put her poles on. Though the gap was only 10 meters between Bjørgen and the other four, she was having a hard time closing the gap and looking rather laboured. Behind her, Kalla and Haag were working together to catch the Norwegian. Further behind, Randall was having a great race and was all alone in eighth place with 3.8km left in the race.
At the front, Johaug was again leading and was able to drop Follis, Longa and Bjørgen, but not Kowalczyk as she matching her stride for stride.
Coming around for the final 2.5km, it was Johaug and Kowalczyk out front with Follis seven seconds back. The fight for fourth had intensified as Longa, Bjørgen, Kalla and Haag had clumped together and were now well off the lead and racing amongst themselves.
With 1.3km left, the Norwegian and Pole were still together with Follis 16 seconds behind and the pack of four 38 seconds behind the leaders.
Coming into the stadium, it was a rare sight as Kowalczyk was actually faster than Johaug down the hill and took the lead. Kowalczyk ran a tight line which meant that if Johaug wanted to go around, she would have to go the long way. In the home straight, Johaug pulled out wide and came level with the Pole and the athletes skied stride-for-stride all the way to the finish line and both lunged, but it was too close to tell.
The initial photo-finish had Kowalczyk for the win, but upon review it was reversed as the slow-motion showed Johaug’s boot was 10cm ahead of Kowalczyk’s and Johaug was given her second win in a row.
1. Therese Johaug
2. Justyna Kowalczyk
3. Arianna Follis
Personally, like this distance for the pursuit races. The go from the gun mentality that Kowalczyk always possess must be taken by every athlete or they will be caught out. It makes the race much more interesting from the firing of the gun.
It’s getting to the point where I’m actually starting to feel sorry for Kowalczyk. If it’s not Bjørgen who it stealing the victories from her, it’s now Johaug who is the women to beat at the moment. Kowalczyk hasn’t won since February 4, which is not that long of a stretch for your average athlete, but for Kowalzcyk, every second place she skis to is tough pill to swallow.
I was surprised today at how affected Bjørgen was by her fall in the transition. It appeared that she was skiing well within herself in the first half of the race, then she fell and looked extremely laboured for a couple kilometers until she settled down again, but by that time it was too late.
For the North American watch, it was a great race for Randall who finished in 11th today, which is a career-best for distance. Stephen (28th), Brooks (39th), and Arritola (50th) were the other Americans entered. For Canada, it was another sub-par day as Crawford was the best in 62nd and Gaiazova was 66th out of 69 athletes.
Personally, at this point of the season, and the form that the Canadian women are showing, I think they would be better off racing Nationals in Canmore instead of getting embarrassed on the international stage. The competition in Canmore over the next week would be much more healthy and probably better for the mind-set at the end of the season too.