Monday, March 2, 2009

10 Best Moments from the Liberec Worlds

At least, from my perspective on the cross-country skiing events. Van's gold in women's jumping, Lodwick's double golds and Demong's bronze and gold in nordic combined were pretty damn good, too. Having the U.S. finish second on the medal table was pretty damn sweet: "The United States tripled its total medal count for all world championships by taking four golds, a silver and a bronze."

10. No dopers (so far)! The FIS says that Liberec's was the most comprehensive testing regime of any Worlds or Olympics. I hope this either scared off the dopers or finds them. So far, the most anomalous result at Liberec has survived the testing.

9.Petter Northug doing what everyone knew he would do by accelerating hard for wins in the pursuit, the relay, and - somewhat surprisingly - the 50.

8. Justyna Kowalcyzk winning double gold in the pursuit and the 30km, pleasing the crowds down from Poland, and showing the rest of the women's field that she can win anything.

7.Charlotte Kalla and Claudia Nystad tracking down young Marthe Kristoffersen and blowing past her on the straightaway to the finish of the women's relay.

6.Ola Vigen Hattestad doing what everyone knew he could do by winning both the individual skate sprint and the team classic sprint. Running almost in fourth for part of the last leg of the men's sprint relay and in a clear third as he hit the finishing straightaway, Hattestad doublepoled like it was his job to take the win - even throwing his ski five meters before the line.

5. The last 5,000 meters of the women's 30km: constant changes of pace, frantic shifts for position, ceaseless action, contact and a critical stumble (Saarinen's), hard frontrunning by the Norwegians, and finally Kowalcyzk's decisive attack.

4. The excellent crowds - which totaled 180,000 over the 10 days of competition.

3. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen showing why - even with Kowalcyzk on the scene - she's the best all-rounder right now, winning golds in the 10km classic, the classic team sprint, and the relay.

2. Kris Freeman fearlessly keeping pace with Lukas Bauer for two laps of the men's 15km classic, then attacking the defending World Cup champion on the last hill, running for the line, and winding up a scant 1.3 second out of the bronze.

1. Kikkan Randall winning the silver in the women's freestyle sprint after skiing from the front all day.

Honorable mentions, in chronological order

  • Kristin Stoermer Steira hammering from the front for about 7.45km of the women's pursuit to blow up the pack.
  • Anders Soedergren hammering from the front for about 5km of the men's pursuit to blow up the pack. If he hadn't been too sick to start, the men's relay and the 50km would have been different races.
  • Alexander Legkov attacking the four-man lead group on a climb near the end the men's pursuit, taking a brief lead, and then falling on a subsequent downhill to lose the bronze.
  • Queen Kuitunen waving her pole and yelling to get another racer out of her way before the first exchange in the women's team sprint.
  • Ten minutes later, Kuitunen and teammate Saarinen practically coasting through their last three legs, having shattered the pack so completely that the TV producer couldn't find a shot that encompassed both the Finn leaders and the chase pack.
  • Liz Stephen racing well to finish 15th in the pursuit and 17th in the 30km. Vancouver, here we come!


Ollie said...

Woah, slow your roll there, Chris. Calling Veerpalu the most anomalous result in Liberec is like saying Lance's top 10 in California was suspect. Veerpalu has been the most successful big-stage classic skier in the last 10 years (I have zero evidence to back that up, but I'm sure you and Colin can rock some sweet spreadsheets and regressions to prove me right or wrong). I'd say the sketchiest results were anything the Russians did (Maxim? Isn't that a magazine?) and having 30+-year-old Eastern Bloc women in the medals in the 30k.

Colin R said...

I was wondering if anyone was going to call Chris out on that one :)

IMO, Veerpalu and Jaak Mae are two guys who are getting up there in a age (38 and 37), yet continue to pop a random great result at a big event each year. Great training or doping-enhanced peaking? They have the added circumstantial evidence of being sandwiched between Finland and Russia, the two most-busted doping nations in XC history.

I'll let Chris speak for himself, but I at this point I'm not too suspicious. Which isn't to say I'd be surprised to see one of them fail a test.

Last point -- the men's 50k was such a circlejerk that a random Russian sneaking in for a medal based on a good final 5k isn't really sketchy. If it had been individual start (like it should be, goddammit) then I'd totally agree with you.

keeron said...

A little bummed about the lack of Canadian content on this list. I was hoping that the Men's relay would get an honourable mention, but there was so much good stuff this year, it's understandable.

Christopher Tassava said...

I love Veerpalu. I love his style of racing, I love his technique, and I love his results. I'd hate to see him get caught doping, and I suppose it's unlikely now that he will be. But there are reasons for suspicion, as the Norwegians were quick to point out after Veerpalu's win.

Mae's only good result in the last couple years was his podium at Otepaa in 2008. A home snow advantage, sure, but realllllllly?

Similarly, Veerpalu seems like he only wins the really big ones now. He doesn't even round into form - just hits the Olys and Worlds for a gold.

The Norwegians, chapped at getting shut out of the men's 15km classic race, made the predictable noises about the oddity of Veerpalu's gold medal, after three years of mediocrity (and worse), since - ta da! - his gold in this event at Torino. Afterposten's graphic is fascinating.

The text reads something like "Veerpalu's places in international races between golds." It is remarkable that an athlete of Veerpalu's caliber had so many bad races over the last three years, and so few successes - until Friday.

Christopher Tassava said...

I'm sorry about leaving the Canadians off the list, Keeron. I had an item in an earlier form of this list highlighting Kershaw's great lead-leg performance (I even had a great screen cap of him leading Filbrich after blowing up the pack - honest!), but after the 30 and 50 I rejiggered the list and cut it in a fit of Americanocentrism. Sorry. I shoulda put it in the hono(u)rable mentions, though: it was a great performance, as were some other races by Renner, Harvey, et al.

Anonymous said...

Yee guys, yee!
Norwegians envy Veerpalu. They are afraid of him, that's why you see so few races of classic style with time interval start. Veerpalu could have won every race from 15km to 50km in his best days if not the sprints and mass starts prevail.
What comes to Veerpalu not having results from 2006 Torino, he suffered knee injury and surgical operations.
What comes to doping, then what is your argument of Estonia being the neighbour to Russia and Finland. You guys are ridiculous! Doping today and not being caught craves big financial resources which are accessible to rich countries like USA Norway Finland and of course poor Russia finds the means to dope it's athletes. Because they MUST win.
Veerpalu was on his first olimpics in 1992, think how many times he has been tested. The same with Mae.
Norway and Sweden blame others of doping, especially when they lose to nations much smaller than they are. Very low, very low indeed.
Why win smaller races when you can take the olympics. Like Lasse Viren did.

Anonymous said...

answering to Olli.
Veerpalu first medal was a 1999 World Championships 50km classics silver after Mika Myllyla, who was later caught on doping.
Someone lately counted medals, Veerpalu should be the most succcessful skier of last 10 years, some norwegians like Alsgaard got more medals, but you should peel off the relay events where the norries victory is granted.

Anonymous said...

One point we should count is that Mae and Veerpalu have been granted the national squad. There is less than million people in Estonia which means there is not much competition.
For example this years Norway 15km classic champion Svartedal could not come to start in Liberec, cause he failed in Otepää and didn't make the Norwegian team. So, when the very competitive Norway's athletes have sweat their juice out prior the OM and WM events.