Panic in Norway

Yesterday saw Olympic history and I’m not talking about Cologna and Kalla winning gold medals in their first ever Olympic races. I’m talking about the Norwegian’s men’s team. It was the worst collective cross-country ski race for Norwegian men in their illustrious Olympic history with their top skier Tord-Asle Gjerdalen finished a mediocre 28th. The fall-out can be described as disappointing, shocking, surprising and even failure. Already six separate articles on Dagbladet (one of Norway’s two big newspapers while VG is the other) and five articles on VG. There are probably be many more in smaller papers across the Scandinavian country. Thankfully, Bjørgen and Størmer-Steira performed up to standards or else there would be a national crisis in Norway today.

While some articles blamed the wax techs and some wax techs blame themselves – Northug’s head waxer Perry Olsson admitted they made a mistake – which was the cause Norwegian’s abissmal results. Others say that Norway is not as strong in freetsyle races as they are in classic. Of course there is some truth in that as Norway always does much better in the classic races.

There was some interesting words from Inge Bråten (Canada’s head coach) who thought it was a paradox that Norway’s skiers were about on par with Canada’s in the men’s 15km. He notes that money in cross-country skiing isn’t synonymous with success in the sport, which was apparent today.

It should not happen. Norge should dominate cross-country skiing with the recruiting and economy we [Norway] has, while some other countries struggle with the economy. This is a pure catastrophe. I cannot believe what I see.”

In the same breath, Bråten still believes Northug will take a gold at the Olympics and I believe if not all, many cross-country ski fans will agree with Bråten.

Many said it’s a wake up call to Norway who has learned to rely on Northug as their medal hope for every race he enters. In fairness to Norwegians, if you had an athlete from your country that was rolling over the competition like Northug was before Christmas and the first part of the Tour, you would expect the same.

More eyebrows were raised when Sundby said that he was not really looking forward to the race and was perfectly satisfied with his 33rd place. He said to dagbladet.no:

Had Lars Berger been in this distance, it would have been interesting, I would have gladly stepped aside. 15km freestyle is not my distance, but Lars would not and I got the chance to race so I can get in proper shape.

Sundby thought that Northug and Hafsås would have “cruised” to a podium place citing that the team was very well prepared. So was it just a case of bad waxing? Hafsås had a different story and blamed his body for not responding the way he wanted it too. He also said that his skis were very good on the day.

This raises the question of team selection. We all know that Norway didn’t fill their quota and only brought 19 of the possible 20 athletes to Canada. Perhaps, they could have brought another distance skier that could have taken Sundby’s place? Or perhaps bring another athlete that could have been a medal hopeful… *cough* Dahl *cough*. But I won’t open the Dahl can of beans in this post. That deserves its own attention.

Norway said that they were only interested in bringing skiers who could compete for medals, and that’s a fair statement to come from a country with such a history in the sport. But at the same time, why put athletes into a race that they know they will not challenge for a medal? We know that Sundby is one of the best in the world when he’s on top of his game, but when a skier from Norway is satisfied with a 33rd, that should give the team selectors a little headache.

I believe this was Hafsås’ only race in Callaghan Valley and it was not the most flattering Olympic debut. Some have said that this “wake up call” should be remedied with changes within the coaching and waxing departments, but I think that is hitting the panic button a little too soon. Let’s see how the rest of the races turn out before making rash decisions such as this.

Åge Skinstad told VG that Northug has gone through this before, in Liberec where Northug placed 22nd in the opening race before going onto becoming a triple gold medallist and that Northug will do much better the next race. Let’s hope Skinstad is right for the sake of the well-being on millions of Norwegians. If they underperform in the sprints tomorrow (basically failing to make the podium), it will be nothing short of a national tragedy for the Scandinavian country.

Til Tomorrow.

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  1. Kuan
    February 17, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Someone put something in their food.

  2. Lars
    February 16, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Well Hafsås was sick so it`s not really fair to expect him todo much, and the rest have not really been that good all year.
    So really the only huge disappointment was Northug.

    As for brining another distance skier to fill the quota. I do not really see who they could bring. Thats the problem Norway is really weak on mens distance. Dahl is a medal contender in the sprint and so are many other sprinters who will not participate but in the distance events there really isn`T anyone behind Northug.

    And the girls a getting off to easy sure Bjørgen`s bronze was okey but not more then that and they to shud aim higer.

    I said it at the end of last year and ill say it know Norway needs something to change. The entire coaching and training cabal have to be reevaluated.
    And no i`m not an expert but it`s easy to tell the results are not what they shud be.

  3. Anonymous
    February 16, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I agree. My guess is that Northug’s results will pretty much end the Tour de Ski in Olympic years — what medal contender would show up now after seeing how he tied himself? — but help the World Cup races the week before.

    • Luke
      February 16, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      Eh….Bauer and Cologna raced the Tour, and Cologna dominated that race, while Bauer was on the podium. Northug just isn’t nearly as strong in individual start races, and dropped a brick today.

  4. Fiat lux
    February 16, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I think the skis were good but not great. The rest is probably bad form due to that they didn’t race Canmore. “All” others did, I think it was really stupid to use the olympic 15k as a warm-up competition instead of Canmore.

    • Anonymous
      February 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      bauer 3rd , vittoz 5th manificat 6th was not in canmore

  1. March 4, 2010 at 9:23 am

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