Nations Cup: 4210pts (5th)
Men: 1249 (10th)
Women: 2961 (4th)
With the retirement of Muranen, Finland lost another integral part of their team for the second year in a row (Kuitunen retired in 2009-2010); however, the break through of Lahteenmaki and Niskanen minimize the void left behind by the 2001 World Sprint Champion. On the men’s side, both Heikkinen and Jauhojaervi rebounded from poor 2009-2010 campaigns to have career years.
The men’s sprint team is one of those squads that has a ton of good talent, but hasn’t necessarily reached their potential quite yet. Strandvall (16th ranked), Jylhae (22nd), Jauhojaervi (32nd) and Paakkonen (59th) all earned at least one top 10 finish last season while Nousiainen (52nd), Heikkinen (54th), Pentsinen (64th), Vaeaenaenen (75th) all had at least one top 20 finish. Finland will be looking for more consistent top 12 results from the Strandvall and Jylhae as they are the two top sprint specialists for the nation. Jauhojaervi is a classic specialist and expect him to have a few top 10 placings in the classic sprint this year; last year he failed to qualify top 30 in any freestyle sprints.
Muranen (17th ranked) left the sport while she was still on top. She won the Finnish sprint title as well as earning two top 10 finishes. The 2001 World sprint champion was the best Finnish sprinter on the circuit last year and has left some big shoes to fill. Last year, Saarinen (19th) had a sub-par sprint season for her standards and failed to win a medal and only made the finals once. After finishing 4th in the Sprint Cup a year prior, I expect that she’ll be back near the top this season and add a few more sprint medals to her already large collection.
Anne Kylloenen (25th) was an athlete that went about business in a very quiet manner. In fact, I don’t even remember her from last season, but she impressively qualified for nine races. She will be looking to continue to improve this year and make it to more semi-finals than last year (she failed to earn a single semi-final birth last season).
Sarasoja (27th), Lahteenmaki (29th),Niskanen (40th), Peraelae (45th), Roponen (50th) also earned sprint points last season despite being revered as distance skiers.
After a nightmarish end to the 2009-2010 season and start of the 2010-2011 campaign, it looked like we would never see the form Heikkinen (17th ranked) showed when he edged out Freeman to earn 3rd place in the 15km classic at the World Champs in Liberec. However, the diminutive Finn amazed the ski world and improved on his 3rd place as he won the 15km at Holmenkollen last March. This year, Heikkinen will be looking to be a serious contender for the Tour de Ski by taking a similar path as Bauer as his sprinting chops are pretty poor.
Sami Jauhojaervi (26th) had a very tumultuous season last year. He either skied very well, or placed outside the top 40. Out of the five races he earned World Cup points, he finished inside the top 16 in all of them (5th, 6th, 9th, 16th and 12th). If he can find some more consistency this year, he should climb the distance and overall ranking considerably.
Ville Nousianen (41st) is a decent skier, but not on the same level as his aforementioned teammates. His seasonal best last year was an 8th in Oberhof. There is also Juha Lallukka who made the world take note with his performance in the 4x10km as he pulled Finland back into the medals during the third leg at the World Champs and again a couple of days later with his 8th place in the frantic 50km mass-start. Lallukka is a strict freestyle specialist so he will be limited in the amount of World Cup starts he gets this season.
Even with the retirement of Kuitunen, the Finnish women still have enough talent to throw together a very good relay team. With Saarinen (7th distance ranking), Roponen (9th), Lahteenmaki (12th) and Sarasoja (24th), the Finnish women have a decently strong relay team. Include Kerttu Niskanen who just will be entering her full season on the World Cup and the women are looking pretty good for the upcoming season. With the retirement of Muranen, I wouldn’t be surprised if Niskanen took her lead-off spot, or at least leap frogs Sarasoja as the final member of that foursome.
I also really want to highlight Lahteenmaki as she’s going to be one of the future superstars of the sport. At the age of 21-years old, she finished 5th in the 10km classic in Oslo as well as earning her first World Cup podium during the Tour de Ski (which she ultimately finished an impressive 8th) during the second stage. She also anchored Finland to a bronze in the 4x5km relay. Going into her second full year on the circuit, expect her to be very familiar name by the end of the season if she isn’t already.
The future for Finland is the present. With Lahteenmaki already making a name for herself and Niskanen winning the U23 sprint, the women look to be set for more success in the coming years. At the age of 19-years old, Maria Grundvall appears to be turning into a decent sprint specialist with a 4th place at World Juniors though she is a couple of years away from World Cup readiness.
On the men’s side, it’s Perttu Hyvarinen who was one of the standouts at World Juniors this year collecting two bronze medals in individual events and helped the Finnish relay team to a 3rd place as well.
It seems that the rebuilding years for Finland are now over. They have talent across the board for both the men and the women and with top prospects coming through the junior ranks, it’s promising times for Finland. Expect Heikkinen and Jauhojaervi to build on last year’s successes while Saarinen and Lahteenmaki will head one of the strongest Finnish women’s sides in many years.
Well it’s over. The home nation ran the gauntlet for 12 days as they racked in an impressive eight gold, four silver, four bronze. Next best nation? Their rivals Sweden with a mere two gold, two silver and one bronze. It wasn’t even fair, just like fishing with dynamite. Over the next three days, I’ll be looking at those athletes and teams who over-achieved, under-achieved, and just achieved. This post will focus on those who did good.
It really goes without saying; Norway, but I said it anyway. Talk about stepping up to the plate when it matters. They had three athletes that won more than two medals each (I’ll get to them later), but a total of six different athletes on hit the podium. The nation won a total of 16 individual and team medals and when you compare that to two-year earlier in Liberec where they collected seven medals (five gold and two silver), which is still a good haul, but what a difference two years makes.
She was crowned the Queen of Callaghan when the Olympics finished and I think it is safe to say that Bjørgen can be crowned as Queen of Holmenkollen too. With four gold and one silver she was so close to tying Valbe’s record of five gold’s in a single Championship. I guess she’ll have to wait another two years for Val di Femme and try all over again.
Northug retained all three titles he won in Liberec (30km pursuit, 50km mass start, and 4x10km relay) and added runner-up medals to his collection. What can I say? He’s good at what he does and what he does is destroy other athletes with his inhuman sprint with 200 meters left in a race.
The most impressive Norwegian is Johaug though. Still very much a youngster in the game at 22-years old, she was able to earn two gold and one bronze being the second best female athlete for her nation. Her performance in the 30km free is one for the ages and she was only 1.3 seconds behind Kowalczyk in the 10km classic. Normally we’d be saying she has a promising future, but for Johaug the future is now.
Over the past couple years, there has been a collective groan from Norwegians and the ski world about the lack of depth and quality of the men’s distance team. Last year, I believe Johnsrud Sundby was the only Norwegian other than Northug to hit the distance podium, and he only did it once. However, this year they turned it all around and delivered when it counted. We knew Rønning and Johnsrud Sundby were in form coming into the Championships, so to see them medal in the 15km classic was a great sight, but not a surprise. To see Gjerdalen come across the line in 3rd in the final 50km and Røthe beat out Harvey, Angerer and Rickardsson left my jaw on the floor. This is Røthe’s first year on the National Team and is still only 22-years old. He only has nine World Cup starts to his name while Gjerdalen has bounced around the top 30 a lot and hasn’t recorded a podium since the 3.3km free in Bormio for the first ever World Cup Finale.
As for other countries, massive props to my home country of Canada; specifically Kershaw and Harvey for winning Canada’s first every World Championship Gold. A pretty special moment, and while it was amazing to see them stand atop the podium in University Square, it wasn’t surprisingly. These guys have been quality and the consistency for top finishes have been there for the past couple years and the world was treated to it first at the Olympics. Then we saw Kershaw take the world by storm at the Tour de Ski and earned his first individual win in the Dobaicco sprint.
For Harvey, we saw his double-poling strength a week earlier in Drammen when he took second place, but to be able to out-pole Ola Vigen Hattestad, the former World Sprint Champion to take the gold, that’s some serious strength we’re talking about. He was also impressive in the 30km pursuit where he broke away and skied at the front by himself for two laps of the race before being caught with less than 3.5km left. In a post-race interview he said that his left-leg was cramping slightly and that could have made the difference. I guess we’ll never know.
For the Russian’s the one bright spot for me was Maxim Vylegzhanin. Even though he was runner-up to Northug twice (is he becoming the new Axel Teichmann?), it’s still two World Championship silvers. In the 50km, he was the one to lead the charge coming up the final hill, but it was too little too late. On a side note, anyone think Vylegzhanin looks like Fred Armisen (cast member of SNL) going through a bought of chemotherapy when he was younger?
We also have Lallukka who I talked about and had the leg of his lifetime to bring Finland back into the medal contention of the 4x10km relay. Also, his teammate Heikkinen peaked at the right time too as he won the 15km classic an impressive 14 seconds over the Norwegians Rønning and Johnsrud Sundby.
Continuing with the Finns, the women were equally impressive for the most part with Saarinen getting back to her old form with an 8th in the 15km pursuit, bronze in the 10km classic, silver in the team sprint and bronze in the 4x5km relay. We also got to see future star of the sport Lahteenmaki help the sprint and relay team to medal as well as an 11th in the 30km free and a very impressive 5th in the 10km classic. The only race where she missed out on was the pursuit where she finished 31st.
Also, journeyman Dolidovich had the best World Championships of his long career as he came fourth in the pursuit but had his dreams of a World Championship medal dashed as he fell on the final hill in the 50km and had to settle for 10th.
As for the women, other than Bjørgen and Johaug, Kalla’s final leg on the team sprint was something pretty special. I’ve never seen such a rapid change in the fight for top spot in the sprint. Coming into the final leg, there was still a chance for Finland and Norway, then all of a sudden Kalla had a massive lead within a few seconds of the hand-off. It was something quite remarkable to witness.
Well, those are the performances that stand out to me. I’m sure there are other ones that impressed you guys too. Tomorrow I’ll be back with an article on the less than good performances that we witnessed in Oslo.
It was a race for Bjørgen to lose. She was the overwhelming favourite for the bookies and the home fans, she already had two gold medal to her name and the home fans expect to have a third by the end of the day. After all was done and dusted, the Norwegian did remain perfect, but it was a lot more uncomfortable than many thought it would be.
Since it was an individual start, we saw the slower skiers lead out the race and there was nothing to talking about for the first 35 skiers. The one bright spot that stood out to me was Sadie Bjornsen from USA who held the fastest time through 2.2km before the meat of the race began coming through. Her time was surpassed by Sweden’s Sara Lindborg. After that the times fell dramatically as it was Pirjo Muranen who came through the time check only seven bibs later and was a whole 26 seconds faster than the Swede. This was the time that all the favourites would be measured on as they came to the time check.
Eventually, the attention was directed to the starting gate as all the favourites began to pour out onto the course. As the favourites were on the course it became very apparent that the Finn’s had extraordinary skis on the day as after 59 skiers through the first time check, Muranen, Lahteenmaki and Niskanen held the three fastest times. However, it was Haag who came through next to take three seconds out of Muranen’s lead time to take the lead, but only two bibs later it was another Finn in the shape of Saarinen to take another four seconds out of the Swede to take the lead.
Then the two big guns came. First Bjørgen came through the 2.2km check and took six seconds out of Saarinen, and then surprisingly Kowalczyk came through a whole 10 seconds fastest than the Norwegian to take the early lead in the race. It was a blistering fast pace that Kowalczyk was setting as the top six were already separated by 20 seconds after only seven minutes of racing.
From then on the TV coverage started to bounce all over the track. At the finish we have Bjornsen leading before Lindborg took over while at the 7.0km mark we had the Finn’s dominating while the Norwegian (Skofterud and Størmer-Steria) were 26 seconds down on the lead, but still siting in 3rd and 4th respectively.
At the finish it was Muranen who took out a massive 1:46 out of Lindborg’s time to take over the leaders chair.
Back out at the 7.0km mark, everyone was loosing time on the Finn’s; Haag who sat three seconds ahead of them at 2.2km, was now in a 38 second deficit behind the current leader in Lahteenmaki. Just as Haag went through the check-point, it was Saarinen who looked destined for the podium today as she came through 9 seconds ahead of Lahteenmaki at 7km for the lead. However, it wasn’t long before Bjørgen came through and took 10 seconds out of the Finn, but Kowalczyk in turn took 8 seconds out of the Norwegian.
As more athletes came to the finish, it was becoming apparent what a good run Muranen had as she was a full 30 seconds ahead the like of Størmer-Steira, Skofterud and 50 seconds ahead of Majdic. However, Muranen was overtaken by her teammate Lahteenmaki then Saarinen as Saarinen held a short-lived 14 second lead over the others as both Bjørgen and Kowalczyk came into the finish.
The crowd was buzzing as Longa and Bjørgen came into the home stretch and Bjørgen took 9 seconds out of Saarinen. Then, as Bjørgen laid in a heap of exhaustion and looking at the clock, the rest of Norway held their collective breath as Kowalczyk desperately double-poled her way to the finish. With only 20 meters to the finish, the grandstand erupted as Kowalczyk slipped into second place as Bjørgen remained perfect and collected her third gold of the 2011 World Championships.
1. Marit Bjørgen
2. Justyna Kowalczyk
3. Aino Kaisa Saarinen
What a finish to a race! With the two favourites starting 30 seconds apart, it meant that everyone would be keeping a keen eye on the splits just as much as they would be watching the actual race itself. Kowalczyk crumples into a heat, half from exhaustion, half from sadness from not winning the race. I’m not the biggest Kowalczyk fan around, but it was hard not to feel sorry for her as she sat in tears at the finish line realizing that with 3km left, it was her race to lose, and she lost it.
Also, I was super pumped to see the Finns and in particular Saarinen, one of my favourite female skiers have a great day. They’ve had a tumultuous season so far with good results few and far between, but it one team put it together today, it was them. They had four of their athletes in the top eight; Saarinen (3rd), Lahteenmaki (5th), Muranen (6th), Niskanen (8th) and Roponen (17th). Particularly with Lahteenmaki, we have to remember she’s only 20 years-old. To finish 5th, just shows her potential, definitely one to watch for the future.
Compare Finland’s positions with those of Norway’s who had Bjørgen (1st), Johaug (4th), Skofterud (9th) and Størmer-Steira (10th). Just makes the team relay that more interesting in four days time.
As for North America, no real bright spots today. The top athletes were American with Brooks (27th), Bjornsen (29th), and Randall (32nd). For Canada, Gaiazova led the way in 37th with Jones (39th), Crawford (52nd) and Gosling (56th) also hitting the start line.
Today I watched the race on NRK (Norway’s equivalent of CBC) and I must tip my hat to them, their coverage is amazing. Usually, if you don’t have a Nowegian IP address, you are blacked out from their NRK1 and NRK2 streaming channels, but if you head over to http://nrk.no/skivm this week, anyone can watch any of the World Championship races on demand streaming with quality up to 720p! (if you internet is fast enough, if not it will dumb down the quality for smooth playback) A special thanks to @ahtramos for the heads up.
Their coverage has been nothing less than amazing and rightly so. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a nation such as Norway. When every Norwegian started today’s race, they had a graphic that came up noting something impressive about the athlete; such as, Johaug having a PB in the 3000m on the track of 9:32 or Bjørgen having six gold, two silver and three bronze at World Championships. They even picked up on Størmer-Steira’s inability to hit the podium as they put a graphic up that mentioned she has a total of six 4th places at World Championships and Olympics in her career. For me, just little things like that make watching the races even more enjoyable to watch.
That’s it for today, tomorrow is the highly anticipated men’s 15km classic.
Talk to you tomorrow.