Saturday, February 27, 2010

Marathon Day II: 50,000 Meters

That was a hell of a 30k, no? Epic conditions, ski changes, a pack that finally fractured under Bjørgen's pressure, then Kowalczyk's comeback, and the all-out sprint to the line. Why oh why did Bjørgen throw in those three or four strides just before the line? She had a teeny lead until she that, but the loss of speed necessary for those few kicks let Kowalczyk, still double-poling, edge past. The margin of victory was 3/10ths of a second, meaning - after 1:33 that the Norwegian finished 0.005521% behind the Pole - about 1.5 centimeters, after 30,000 meters of racing.

Would that the men's 50k is so close! Certainly it'll be shaped by the same factors as the 30k: crazy weather (predicted to be variably cloudy and about 4°C/37°F), heavy legs from all the Olympic racing, the incredible distance, and - perhaps most importantly - the option to change skis in search of that perfect mix of boards and wax. Add to those factors two more: first, the presence of some wild card racers like long-distance specialist Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset and especially Andrus Veerpalu, who has aimed at this particular race all season and, second, the fact that recent mass-start 50k races have been even tighter than the equivalent women's races:

2009 Worlds, Liberec (freestyle): Northug, Vylegzhanin (+0.7s), Angerer (+2.0s)
2009 World Cup, Trondheim (classic): Jauhojärvi, Angerer (+21.8s), Harvey (+33.2s)
2007 Worlds, Sapporo (classic): Hjelmeset, Estil (+0.4s), Filbrich (+4.5s)
2006 Olympics, Pragelato (freestyle): Di Centa, Dementiev (+0.8s), Botvinov (+0.9s)
2005 Worlds, Oberstdorf (classic): Estil, Hjelmeset (+0.7s), Aukland (+1.4s)

We can be pretty sure that the gold and silver will be separated by a fraction of a second, and almost as sure that the bronze will be behind by no more than another second. But I still think that the finish will be a drag race between savvy distance specialists, not all-rounders. By this I mean "no Petter." Picks:

1. Angerer
2. Bauer
3. Olsson

I think the North Americans could show up well, too:
Harvey and Babikov: top 15; Freeman and Grey: top 20; Kershaw and Southam: top 30

Whatever the podium for the last race of the Olympics, the event should be a doozy.


Nat Herz said...

Dude, no props to Steira for her huge effort? She didn't win, but she tried really really hard--and didn't finish fourth, either!

Christopher Tassava said...

She skied well, all, right, but here at NCP we only discuss success. (Or at least predictions of it.) Her run up onto the virtual podium was impressive, but boy did she slide back down the field... I wish the results sheet noted when the racers swapped skis: this seemed to be important for Saarinen, at least...

Anonymous said...

I don`t think Petter will be a factor in the race either his classic isn`tt that good he has already competed in 5 event`s and conditions are really difficult something that will favor the guys with the better engine.

Kuan said...

About those strides: I imagine she thought she was losing ground and had to try something.

I'd fall over if I had to stride that fast.

packfiller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
packfiller said...

Yeah, what Anonymous said. Guys with a better engine.

Christopher Tassava said...

Northug, that bastard! After picking him to feature in the 15k (not to mention to win the Tour de Ski last month), I thought, "NEVER AGAIN!" So I didn't, but he did. Aargh! It's almost as if he's not paying attention to me.