Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tour de Skiathlon

The Tour de Ski has been a rock 'em-sock 'em set of races so far. In addition to the crazy weather, we've seen an unusual number of crashes, ranging from the meaningless to Kikkan Randall's digger in the classic sprint today. And we've seen some unexpected results, including Kowalczyk's incredible form, Bjørgen's vincibility, and Teichmann's from-nowhere win in the Oberhof 15k.

Given all that, I'm looking forward to the skiathlon on New Year's Day. It's going to be a brutal, fast-paced affair, I think, and here's how I think it's going to shake out:

Friday, December 30, 2011


How unexpected was Teichmann's win in the Oberhof classic pursuit? Unexpected enough that none of the 187 guesses on XC Predictions included ol' Axel for any of the three podium spots. The wisdom of crowds?

Of course, who'd have thought Teichmann had anything left? His last top-ten finish was last February. His last podium finish was the 2009 Tour de Ski, when he was famously blown away by Northug on the Final Climb. The guy hasn't been fast in a while, and yet: there he was at the front of the race and perfectly positioned to exploit the crash to take a surprisingly easy win - and the top spot in the general classification.

The women's race played out more conventionally, though surprisingly Bjørgen was not there to vie for the win at the end. I really through Johaug would be able to take Kowalczyk in the finishing straight, but the taller, bigger Pole had a little too much today.

These results - the one crazy, the one normal - have whetted my appetite for the rest of the Tour. Can the Germans - both men (three in the top dozen today and overall) and women (two in the top ten today and overall) - stay strong? What about the Russian men, who were massed at the front of the race today?

My picks for the classic sprint in Oberstdorf:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

For-Real Pursuit

It's great that FIS has switched back to calling it the pursuit. And tomorrow is going to be worthy of the name, at least on the women's side.
Therese Johaug clawing back 27 seconds is going to be impressive, if it happens, and my guess is that there will be a lot of movement on both sides as the one-hit prologue wonder-skiers fade.
Frenchman Robin Duvilliard, anyone? In three trips to the prologue course in Oberhof, he has finished in the top 30 three times - impressive for a guy who usually can't find the top 30 in a sprint qualification round with a road map.
Better get the goods in print...

Half Arsed Prediction

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tour de Ski, imPossible Prologue

First of all, I would just like to say that I think hate prologues as much as Tassava loves the Tour de Ski.

They play absolutely zero role in the finish of the Tour de Ski, are a waste of a day, and are so massively unpredictable they drive me nuts.
Cross country skiing has enough complicated formats to explain to non-skiers that yet another one is completely unnecessary. You're likely to spend more time explaining the race format than it will take the winner to ski it.
I have yet to see any sort of rational that explains the existence of such an event satisfactorily - please Vegard, just give us an individual start 10 k classic to kick the thing off. Everyone gets it, it doesn't exist on the World Cup any more, and Devon Kershaw is good at it. 'Nuff said.

With that little rant out of the way, on to my:

Half-Arsed Predictions - Oberhof Prologue

Half-Arsed Predictions - Tour de Ski

Tour de Whee!

I love the Tour de Ski - always have (even when it was just a twinkle in Vegard Ulvang's eye), always will (even after Northug reels off five straight wins starting this year). I'm especially jazzed for the 2011-2012 edition, since it's the only major event of the season and is thus getting all the focus of the big-name racers. Before getting to my picks for the prologue in Oberhof and for the overall TdS standings, I want to hit on a few themes that have emerged so far this year and that will matter to the Tour:
  1. The lack of snow. With one exception - ironically, the city sprints in Dusseldorf - every World Cup venue has had to deal with a lack of snow. At least a few of the Tour sites are facing similar problems, though apparently the crucial last few stages in Italy have good snow already. Day-to-day worries about low snow are one thing, best left to the FIS and the event organizers (and to me, suffering through a no-snow winter in southern Minnesota), but skiers and ski fans should worry about the long-term outlook for our favorite season, as pointed out in Audrey Mangan's excellent interview with Bill McKibben on
  2. Norwegian dominance. This isn't so much a new trend as the exaggeration of a fact of life. Bjørgen and Northug are of course far and away the best skiers on the circuit right now; each is leading both the overall and the distance standings - Marit over Skofterud by 103 and 2 points respectively, Petter by 52 points to Cologna and 138 points to Manificat, respectively.  Amazingly, no other Norwegian men are in the top ten of either the overall or distance standings; four (but not Northug) are in the sprint top 10. On the other hand, Norwegian women are dominating all three categories: five in both the overall and the distance standings and three in the sprint standings. Guess who's winning the Nation's Cup?
  3. Kikkan Randall. We at NCP have already waxed rhapsodic over Kikkanimal's racing this winter, which we would call a "breakout season" if she hadn't already broken out last year. This year, Kikkan is in the top ten of every ranking: 10th in distance, 4th in overall, and - wonderfully - 1st in sprint. I think that she's going to have a fantastic Tour de Ski. She is exactly the right kind of athlete to capitalize on the Tour's mix of sprint and distance races - especially the relatively short distance races  such as the 2.5k freestyle prologue in Oberhof, the 5k+5k pursuit in Oberstdorf, and the 3k classic in Toblach. With her skating prowess, Randall is also poised to do well in the 15k point-to-point race to Toblach and of course the 9k Final Climb. In short: go, Kikkan, go!
Beyond all that, this year is going to be interesting because both Bjørgen and Northug are in good shape and are gunning to win the Tour. It's astounding that neither of the two racers, certainly the best skiers in the world right now and probably the best racers of the last decade, have won the Tour, but those are the facts. Northug comes into this season's edition with three straight second-places (behind Cologna in 2009 and 2011 and Bauer in 2010 - plus a third-place finish in 2008), while Bjørgen has managed to finish the Tour only once, taking second behind Kuitunen in the inaugural Tour in 2007. I see them performing well in every stage, and winning the overalls:

Oberhof classic technique prologue (2.5k women, 3.75k men)

Tour de Ski overall

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rogla Sprints

On Sunday, the Rogla course can finally be put to its natural 2k purpose: sprinting. My picks, for whatever they're worth:

An Introduction!

Yesterday may have been a bit confusing for some – I really didn’t announce my presence very well.

My name is Kieran Jones – if you are a regular FasterSkier reader, you may recognize it from my by-line as the Canadian guy, or most recently from a sojourn to Dusseldorf, Germany, and Davos, Switzerland, for the World Cup action there. If you’re into that sort of thing, check out my race report from the sprint in Davos, which I happen to think is the best thing I have ever written for FasterSkier, despite what some others feel.

I’ve also done the FasterSkier World Cup preview series two consecutive years, and while it hasn’t made me any better at predicting results, it has made very familiar with the FIS database, using Google Translate, and the fact that the Norwegian Sprintgutta website is perhaps the most ridiculous in existence.

Joining the Nordic Commetary Project seemed like the natural choice for me because it’s owners have offered me the use of the company Learjet, a million dollars in small unmarked bills, and access to a fridge full of cold beers, something which FasterSkier refused to furnish. But I’m limiting myself to a few Half Arsed Predictions TM, some random musings, but not much more.

What’s my story?

I’m Canadian, and sucked hard at skiing for a significant portion of my career, but I love it, so there’s that. Go ahead, make fun of me for it – you can’t say anything worse about my skiing ability than I already have, and I guarantee you I coach a junior girl that is faster than you if you really want to get into that pissing match.

I recently departed FasterSkier due to a hectic winter schedule that his me appearing in no fewer places than U.S. Nationals in Rumford, ME, an Ontario Cup in Thunder Bay, ON, Canadian World Junior Trials in Callahan Valley, BC, and Canadian Nationals in Quebec City, QC as my role of coach of the Nakkertok L2C program demands.

I’ll also bring my self-deprecating sense of humor, a rack of hopefully-cool pictures, and a massive love of World Cup skiing in general.

Enjoy the show!

Half Arsed Predictions

In my first outing, I did not too badly. My women all finished in the top 10, which was handy, but I was stung by my gut feeling that the Canadians have to get a medal soon, as Kershaw dropped to 16th, and my belief in Roenning's ability to classic ski.

For tomorrow, barring unforseen circumstances, I can't see anyone beating Kikkan Randall. Trust me, she's just that good right now. Mens sprinting is notoriously fickle, but Emil was impressively on his game last weekend given the fact that he had a nasty injury, and I think a week to train and get his sea legs under him won't have hurt - update - Joensson isn't racing, and I'm a hack and can't get in and change my World of XC predictions, but here in writing, I'm going to replace the Swede big man with Teodor Petersen. Yup, off the list to first in one fell swoop - nice work, T.Pete.

Here goes nothing...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Round and Round Rogla Goes

Rogla, Slovenia, has only hosted the World Cup once, back in 2009, when the venue ran classic mass-start races over 15k for the women (Kowalczyk, Bjørgen, Haag) and 30k for the men (Northug, Legkov, Vylegzhanin). Those races were interesting for at least three reasons: the new site, heavy attrition in the men's race (19 DNFs!), and some nasty racing among the women, with Saarinen getting DSQ'd for bumping hometown girl Majdic.

This year the races are interesting because the organizers only have one flat, 2,000 meter loop to use. This would be a complete disaster if they were trying to run the 15k/30k races from two years ago, but - luckily? - they've only trying to run 10k/15k events. How exactly that's gonna work is anyone's guess, but even given the medium-sized fields, I've gotta think that they'll need to pull skiers as they get lapped - mostly the SLO skiers. (Get it?)
The short loops might also mess with the usual suspects in both the men's and women's races. Without any serious climbs, I can't see people like Johaug putting the hurt on anyone. On the other hand, I've learned that it's foolish to bet against Northug ever. I'll be interested to see how this craziness shakes out.

Note: I won't be surprised if Randall finishes in the top 10, or even better. Seems like the tight quarters could be made for her, and she does have a good spot in the start grid - tenth.

Swiss Sprinters and Bjoergen’s ‘Sore Throat’

One of the most intriguing story lines of the early season (last two weekends) has been the emergence of the Swiss sprint team as a force.

Okay, so ‘force’ is an exaggeration – they have only one medal – in Dusseldorf of all places, but still.

Eligius Tambornino has qualified second and third in the last two sprints, before fading to mid-pack finishes. Joeri Kindschi has also picked up two top 20 finishes, including 9th in D-Dorf. Add in Martin Jaeger, who finished 11th in Dusseldorf before being unlucky number 31 by .09 of a second in Davos, and you have three guys who seem to be at minimum consistent qualifiers. And I haven’t even talked about Dario Cologna, although if I’m honest the Swiss big man was a disappointment in his home town.

While there is pretty much just one Swiss women - Laurien Van Der Graaff – and she has been probably my favorite surprise of the season thus far. In Dusseldorf, she celebrated after every single time she crossed the finish line. And not just quietly – with yelling, jumping and arm waving, which was pretty cool to see. And rightly so – before D-Dorf, she had never advanced from a quarter-final, and she found herself with a bronze medal. Rad stuff, no doubt.

Now, the twenty-two year old firecracker has made appearances in sprint finals in back-to-back weekends.

- "Laurien, why are you so ****ing awesome this year?"

There are a lot of asterisks beside the Swiss team performances over the last two weeks. Yes, they were both skate sprints. Yes, one barely qualifies as a World Cup (D-Dorf had a smaller field, was pissing rain, and had a hamster-track of a course), and yes, in Davos it was effing beautiful and the crowd was overwhelmingly on their side.

But – and from my perspective this is the most important but – the courses were dramatically different between the two weekends.

Dusseldorf was hard-packed skating-rink-slippery artificial snow, icy, narrow, close-quarters combat, and it was 8 degrees Celsius and raining. The course was a so-called 750 meter loop (FIS may have called it 900 – but trust me the only way you were getting 900 meters on that course was by zig-zagging your way down it) that featured pretty much no hills, and just two big 180-degree corners.

Davos, by contrast was on fresh, machine groomed natural white stuff, on a blue-bird day just below zero. While also fairly flat, it was wide open for passing, and had big powerful downhill sections. At 1500 meters, for the women it was significantly longer than Dusseldorf, and many athletes repeatedly told me that the course had ‘no rest’ compared to the less than 2 minute effort the weekend before.

That brings us to Rogla this weekend. Slovenia has been home to fantastic sprinters recently (Majdic, Visnar, Fabjan, - I rode the elevator with her and boyfriend Ola Vigen Hattestad in Dusseldorf – she was looking good) but I’m going to be focused on the Swiss, because if they nail it down, I’ll believe they are for real.

Bjoergen Bails

Marit Bjoergen is backing out of Rogla due to a ‘sore throat’. Yeah, sure Marit.

While I’m sure she, like the other 100% of the top World Cup skiers is focusing on the Tour de Ski and wants to be healthy and at her best (read: able to slaughter the entire field by 50+ seconds in a 15 k individual start freestyle) I think it’s time the muscle-bound Norwegian owned up.

Marit, just admit it. You’re scared.

I saw your half-hearted sprint last Sunday – you just can’t face another round of mixed zone questions after having your winning streak ended by an American. An American who didn’t just win, but dominated the sprint, then showered the first row of Euro photographers with champagne, and hammed it up during the press conference.

- Randall whipping out the ole bunny ears. Bunny ears - cracking up pictures since 2nd Grade.

And you know what? It’s okay. Kikkan hugged me last weekend – I just went for the congratulatory handshake, but when an Alaskan with bigger everything muscles than you and pink hair goes for a hug, you don’t resist.

Also – if you want to trot out the fact that Bjoergen skied 30 km the day before, try this on for size. In Randall's warm-up, I counted the number of loops I saw the American do on the sprint loop. I gave up after 30, and if I had to guess, she did another 10 minimum. That would be 40x750m which equals… you guessed it.

30 km.

Half-Arsed Predictions

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Duhvos Sprint

I pretty much couldn't have made worse predictions for the distance races at Davos. Regardless, here are more foolish guesses, this time for the freestyle sprints. Despite having been soundly proven wrong about Northug in the 30k individual, I just can't see him placing well in the sprint after racing so hard today. I'm ready to be proven wrong again. And though I think Bjørgen would be a solid bet for first place, I think Randall is going to show up in a big way tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Davos Oddness

After some off-again on-again decisionmaking due to a lack and then a surfeit of snow in Davos, we're going to see some unusual events this weekend: long(ish) individual-start skate races. A 15k for women and 30k for men are being run over a big 7.5k loop that, as usual at Davos, is basically a long uphill to the halfway point and then a long downhill back to the line. It's not the mythical 30k/50k individual races at Holmenkollen, but it's close!

As pointed out in Fasterskier's excellent preview of the race weekend, the altitude - and the early point in the season - has historically made for some oddball podiums in shorter skate races (10k for women, 15k for men), such as Heikkinen and Khazova in 2009 and Poltarinin in 2010.

This year, I think the distance is going to matter even more, with proven long-distance skiers atop the results sheets. Cologna has won skate marathons, and on home snow, he'll be charging hard. (I'd peg Northug for the win, but I don't think he can concentrate for 30,000 meters of individual-start racing!) Johaug won the 30k skate at Worlds last year, and is going to get another World Cup win.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

And Now for Something Slightly Different

... from my Randall-centric posts lately. Back in the States, Jessie Diggins is killing it on the SuperTour. After seven races at two venues, she's scored 200 points out of a possible 210. Not shabby:

  1.   classic sprint (West Yellowstone): 1st place/30 points
  2.   skate sprint  (West Yellowstone): 2nd/25 pts
  3.   10k skate (West Yellowstone): 2nd/25 pts
  4.   5k classic (West Yellowstone): 1st/30 pts
  5.   skate sprint (Bozeman): 1st/30 pts
  6.   5k skate (Bozeman): 1st/30 pts
  7.   10k classic (Bozeman): 1st/30 pts

I can't wait to see what she does abroad later this year.
Diggins at Bozeman MT (Photo via Dethier)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Better Than Kikkan

Kikkan Randall delivered the win in Düsseldorf today, confirming her status both as the best freestyle sprinter in the world and one of the overall best skiers in the World Cup.

This is a big "duh," of course. We knew that. Bearing with me for a minute, I'm interested to see who has beaten Kikkan in a more-or-less head-head-to-head way so far this season. Counting the two sprints, the Sjusjøen and Kuusamo individual races, and the second leg of the Sjusjøen relay, and taking the finish order of the Kuusamo pursuit (not the "stage win"), only eight women have beaten Kikkan this year. They're a talented bunch, which means that our Kikkan is, too.

Like I said, "Duh."

Sjusjøen skate 10k
1 Bjørgen
2 Kalla
3 Skofterud
4 Berger
5 Steira
6 Kristoffersen
7 Johaug
Kikkan 8th

Sjusjøen 4x5k relay (second leg)
8 Kowalczyk
Kikkan 2nd on leg

Kuusamo classic sprint

1 Bjørgen
2 Kalla
3 Skofterud
Kikkan 4th

Kuusamo skate 5k

1 Bjørgen
3 Skofterud
2 Kalla
7 Johaug
Kikkan 5th

Kuusamo classic 10k pursuit
1 Bjørgen
7 Johaug
3 Skofterud
2 Kalla
8 Kowalczyk
Kikkan 6th overall in the Ruka Triple

Friday, December 2, 2011


I'm not that big a fan of the city sprints, but I do like the annual shenanigans in Düsseldorf, which is especially tight and crashy. This year's slightly less interesting because of some big names (Bjørgen, Northug, Jönsson) are sitting out, but on the other hand, Kikkan Randall is the odds-on favorite for the win. So says Nordic Xplained and me, via Jan's Who Wins game.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Skofterud: Norwegian for "Early Season Star"?

Though the World Cup season is only two weekends old, I'm intrigued by two trends - Therese Johaug's development as a sprinter and Vibeke Skofterud's success so far. I might get to the first topic in another post, but I'd like to dig into the second topic here. (Maybe the Statistical Skier can use his quantitative skills to offer some additional insights. Pretty please?)

In a nutshell, my take on Skofterud is that she's a good early-season performer who rapidly fades after six or eight weeks of racing. That's not to say that she's not worth respecting. Using Statistical Skier's tool, even an innumerate like me find data to show that she's improved markedly since starting her World Cup career in 2000. Skofterud has frequently turned in top-10 results throughout the Bjørgen Era, and raced on many a Norwegian relay team. In fact, she's collected four World Champs relay medals (gold in Olso '12 and Oberstdorf '05, silver in Val di Fiemme '03, and bronze in Sapporo '07) and a gold in the relay at the Vancouver Olympics.

In short, most countries would be happy to have someone of her ability on their teams. On many of them, she'd be the strongest female skier.

But at the same time, Skofterud is not the most reliable individual performer. Her major-event best in an individual race is a sixth in the 30k skate at the Olso Worlds earlier this year, when she was one of the four Norwegian women in the top six. She's never done better than eighth at an Olympic Games - and that, way back in the 30k classic race at Soldier Hollow in 2002.

On the World Cup, she finished second or third nine times in individual or stage races. Just this month, in fact, she's enjoying her best-ever streak of results: third place in the opening 10k skate in Sjusjoen and third overall in the Ruka Triple at Kuusamo, where she missed qualifying in the classic sprint but then pulled off back-to-back thirds in the 5k skate and the 10k classic races.

This early-season accomplishment is par for the course. All but one of her individual podium places have come in November or early December. (The outlier is a second place in the 2002 Birkebeinerrennet, when the race was run as a World Cup.)

Race Date Place Event Place
27-11-2011  Kuusamo 15 km M    3 
19-11-2011  Sjusjoen 10 km F    3 
29-11-2009  Kuusamo 10 km C    3 
08-12-2007  Davos 10 km C    2 
24-11-2007  Beitostoelen 10 km F    2 
28-11-2003  Kuusamo 10 km C    2 
23-03-2002  Lillehammer 58 km C Mst    2 
09-12-2001  Cogne SP 1.5 km F Final    2 
08-12-2001  Cogne 5 km C    3 

Her good form in 2007 vanished soon after that second place in Davos; she only raced three more times after that weekend. Her 2008-09 season was even shorter (only four races), and the subsequent seasons weren't much better: nine races in 2009-10 (one podium, in November) and seven races in 2010-2011 (no podiums).

What's the cause of this? I have no idea beyond the usual culprits: overtraining, a lack of focus, injury, illness... I hope Skofterud can maintain her form to and beyond Christmas this season. We need some new faces near the front of the Bjørgen parade.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Season of the Kikkan

I know the World Cup season is only two individual races old, but I'm jazzed about Kikkan Randall's chances this year. Her one "weakness" - relative to the most elite racers - has been her classic skiing, in both distance events and, more importantly, sprints, but so far this season she's showing some real chops along both axes.

In the 10k skate at Sjusjøen last Saturday, she turned in a distance PR result of eighth, boding well for her distance racing. In Sunday's relay, she skied the American team's second classic leg, and logged the second-fastest time, slower only than Kowalcyzk and moving the team up from 16th to 12th place at the halfway point.

Today, over at Kuusamo, Kikkan matched last Saturday's distance PR with a PR in the classic sprint that opened the "Ruka Triple" event: fourth, a hair behind Vibeke Skofterud (who's not known for her sprinting). Fasterskier points out that Randall had not even qualified for the Kuusamo heats the past three years. This year she qualified comfortably in 15th and then skied almost up to the podium in the heats.

Randall's next tests come right away - a 5k freestyle race on Saturday and a 10k classic pursuit on Sunday over Kuusamo's brutally jagged course. If she does well, I think we can assume that Kikkan is going to fare very well all season long, no matter the distance or the technique. I can't wait to find out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Marathon Cup (part I)

The upcoming World Cup season is going to be unusual in that it will feature neither a World Championships nor an Olympic Games. Already, commentators and athletes alike are looking to the Tour de Ski as the high point of the season. The TdS will likely be exciting, but it comes too early to serve as the true peak of the winter's racing. Likewise, the season Finale - as usual, four races in in Stockholm and Falun - is too short and too late to be much more than a last hurrah for the racers.

Happily, though, this season is apparently going to see an uptick in the intensity of racing on the FIS Marathon Cup circuit, a series of races run all across Europe from December to March and ranging from 42km to 90km in length.

I love following the Marathon Cup, which overlaps both with the citizen-race Worldloppet series and the more-elite "Ski Classics" series (all of which are classic-technique events). One reason for this is that regular old citizen racers can participate in all of the races, unlike any of the World Cups, which are of course events for the elites only. It's cool to do the "same" Vasaloppet as the winner of that esteemed race - even if he would finish three hours ahead of me.

Another reason I enjoy following the Marathon Cup is that the races demand a different set of skills from athletes than the regular World Cup races. All of the races are mass starts, for one thing, which contributes to the formation of lead packs that are, early in the events, bigger than the entire fields of WC races. Not everyone is good at or comfortable in 100-person lead groups, which are more like cycling pelotons than the relatively small clusters of skiers in WC pursuits or marathons The lead women, in contrast, usually have to ski, mostly on their own, through heavy (male) traffic and worn-out tracks for 40 or 50 or 90 kilometers - again, markedly different from WC races.

And then there's the most notable characteristic of the MC races: the distances. All told, the eleven Marathon Cups comprises 647km of racing this winter - quite a bit longer than the entire World Cup. The shortest Marathon Cup events this season are two freestyle 42km races, the season-opening La Sgambeda in Italy in December and the Engadin in Switzerland in March. The other nine Marathon Cup races range from 50km to 90km, and average 63km in length. With regards to distance, prestige, and, probably, effort, the grandaddy of all the marathons is the Vasaloppet, which covers 90km of flat, flowing trails between Moran and Salen, Sweden, and requires something like four hours of effort for the male winner.

A third reason I like following the Marathon Cup races is that they increasingly attract world-class skiers, often now embedded in formal teams. This winter's races seem to be bringing this trend to new heights - which will be the subject of a follow-up post in a couple days.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thirtysomething Ski Tech

It's been a few months since the Nordic Commentary Project moved ahead, but with both winter and the World Cup just a few weeks away (though not necessarily in the same places), it's time to start posting again. I have a long piece in the works, but I thought I'd start off slow by linking to a fantastic collection of 1970s nordic-skiing ads like these. I love the color schemes!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Breaking the Melted Ice

It's been a while since a new post disturbed the serenity of this very seasonal blog, but I can't help sharing this cool video of Bjørgen and Johaug watching a replay of the World Champs 30k. Even if you can't understand what they're saying, their emotions come through.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Questions about Veerpalu

Given the predictable and widespread eagerness to defend Andrus Veerpalu against the doping charges he's now facing, I have a few questions. I'm trying here not to pose loaded questions, since I'd love to see Veerpalu be clean. But at the same time, I have to wonder...

1. Why, if the positive test for HGH was (and thus still is) erroneous, did Veerpalu retire in February rather than own up to the fact (if not the correctness) of the positive test of the "A" sample and start to fight then and there? Why wait for the "B" sample test? Even if an athlete has to sit out the next races when a positive result comes back (and I don't know about this: do they?), why make up the story about the knee injury and abruptly retire?

2. How widespread is doping in Estonia? Though Veerpalu's case is only in its early stages, Kristina Šmigun-Vähi provides a precedent that might be good or bad, depending on your perspective. After a World Cup race in late 2001, she returned a positive "A" sample for an anabolic steroid. Her "B" sample came back negative, and she was allowed to race in the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. By that time, she'd already won two World Championship medals at Ramsau in 1999 as well as five World Cup races; she went on to win four more WSC medals at Val di Fiemme in 2003, three Olympic medals (two at Torino, one at Vancouver), and eleven more World Cups. Either she was a doper who got away with her offense, or a "false positive" who was correctly allowed to race.

3. Was the 2002 class of Olympic medalists the worst ever? Without impugning Beckie Scott or Frode Estil and Thomas Alsgaard (among others), and forgetting about the convicted dopers Muhlegg, Lazutina, and Danilova, check out these other medalists:
  • Yuliya Tchepalova (bronze in 15k freestyle mass start, silver in the 10k classic, and gold in sprint
  • Christian Hoffmann (gold in 30k freestyle mass start), and
  • Veerpalu (gold in 15k classic and silver in 50k classic).
Beyond that funny bunch, we also find Estonian Jaak Mae (bronze in 15k classic) and Russo-Austrian Mikhail Botvinov (silver in 30k freestyle mass start), whose big-race performances are suspiciously like those of Veerpalu and Hoffmann. And then there's Russian Mikhail Ivanov, who is surely one of the greatest few-hit wonders ever: the inherited gold in the 50k classic (after Muhlegg's DSQ), a bronze in the 30k at the 2001 Lahti Worlds (cough cough), and four podiums on the World Cup, all in 2000 or 2001.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Veerpalu's Shame

From (via the World of XC news aggregator and a Google translation):

It's official: Andrus Veerpalu was in A and B samples test positive for growth hormone. Yet he still denies having doped. As at a press conference of the Estonian Ski Association, was attended by among others Veerpalu itself, Mati Alaves coach and doctor Jüri Laasik was posted on Thursday, both A-and B-sample in the case Andrus Veerpalu are positive. The positive sample came from 14 February - not, as was leaked in advance, of 29 January. In both samples, the growth hormone HGH has been found - but it is not about doping, as Veerpalu said. "On 15 February I received the shocking news that my A-sample is positive," said Veerpalu, the eight days later ended his career with 40 years of age. "I want to tell everyone that I have never taken banned substances to me. All victories and good results were the result of hard work." Still, he apologized in lump sums to all that he had disappointed. Veerpalu and Dr. Jüri Laasik declared that they had under the existing WADA rules are not used to be able to say the truth about the positive test. Alaves coach Mati turned even further behind today's athletes.
Veerpalu's peer and competitor in classic races, Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, minces no words (even through a Google Translate filter):
I am simply annoyed. Andrus Veerpalu is a scammer and old-fashioned cheater... He has won so many ski [races] and had certainly going to do well in this World Cup too. It is clear that he has held for so long. You doper you not the first time that 40-year-old.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Was Almost Positive about Veerpalu

I've commented on this blog several times on Andrus Veerpalu, who is on the one hand an elegant, gutsy skier whom I always enjoyed watching but who on the other hand always seemed suspiciously able to pull off big races. Well, comes this story from an Estonian newspaper (and reported on - translation by Google):

The Estonian newspaper Postimees writes on his website that the cross-country skier Andrus Veerpalu gave positive doping test at the end of January. (02.04.2011 - NTB)
40-year-old retired in February, just before the World Cup in Holmenkollen.
According to Postimees' sources, there is a doping sample taken during training camp in Otepää, Estonia has been shown to be positive. Neither the FIS or the Estonian Ski Federation has confirmed that it is passed positive doping test. Veerpalu even deny it. Estonian has won both Olympic and World Championship gold. Veerpalu said he retired because of knee problems.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Skiers to Watch in 2011-2012

Trying to dig a little deeper than the Harvey-Kalla group, I've come up with a short list of some young(ish) skiers who I think are worth watching. Additions are welcome...

Who: Finn Hågen Krogh (21 years old)
Where: Norway
Why: Capping a good season of Scandinavian Cup racing (and building on some good World Juniors results), he won the last stage of the WC Finale at Falun, finishing second in the Finale overall to Mr. Norway, Petter Northug. Like the 'Thug, Krogh has some brass balls, claiming that he can be as good as Northug.

Who: Kevin Sandau (22 years old)
Where: Canada
Why: With a mess of good Nor-Am Cup results, and some great results in Canadian (and American!) national championship races, Sandau looks to be a great distance racer in the making. With the Canadian team on a decided upward curve over the last several years (Kershaw and Harvey both finished in the top 10 of the WC overall this season), I've inclined to think that Sandau is going to emerge as a great racer.

Petr Sedov (20 years old)
Where: Russia
Why: Garnering a bunch of top-10s on the World Cup circuit, Belov also finished 13th on the WC overall, ahead of better known racers like di Centa, Harvey, Vittoz, and Johnsrud Sundby. Having dominated the World Junior Championships in 2009 and 2010, he seems poised to be a top-five distance racer for a long time.

Who: Tim Tscharnke (21 years old)
Where: Germany
Why: Mostly unknown on the World Cup, Tscharnke does already have a silver in the team sprint from Vancouver, and suggests having the same mix of distance guts and closing speed that Teichmann and Angerer had a few years ago.

Who: Jessie Diggins (19 years old)
Where: USA
Why: Still maturing and far from her fastest, she still had excellent North American results (U.S. national champ in the sprint, third in the 30k classic mass start, plus wins in various other events) and some good international results: seventh in the 5k classic and a 12th in the pursuit at Junior Worlds (both dramatic improvements over her results at 2010 WJC). She's the best young American skier, and looks to be lining up for a long-term slot on the USSA team. Plus: she's a Minnesotan!

Who: Ida Ingemarsdotter (25 years old)
Where: Sweden
Why: A bit older than the other racers here, Ingemarsdotter had a near-breakout season: two medals at Worlds (silver in the relay [in which she skied the second-fastest scramble leg] and gold in the team sprint) plus a slew of top 10s in the WC, including a marvelous fourth in the Stockholm sprint. If she can keep her upward momentum going, she'll be a solid all-around racer for quite a few years.

Who: Therese Johaug (22 years old)
Where: Norway
Why: Go-haug is a killer, that's why. Her runaway gold in the 30k at Olso was teh best race of the World Championships and her first-even senior-level win, but she followed it up with a win in the Lahti pursuit the next week. She has a bunch of other WC podium finishes, including first-place finishes in the Tour de Ski Final Climb. If she can early a few points in the spring - a discipline she's promised to work on - she will be a top-five overall skier forever. If she can early lots of points in the sprint, she might be dominant. Plus and so, her gaudy gold Swix parka was auctioned off at Worlds for 186,000 Norwegian kroner or USD 36,72.51 - all of which she donated to cancer research.

Who: Krista Lahteenmaki (20 years old)
Where: Finland
Why: In her first full season on the World Cup, she earned four individual top-tens and two medals at Worlds (in the relay and team sprint). As good in freestyle as she is in classic, she's also got a ferocious urge to attack. She's the heir apparent to Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, who's twelve years her senior.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Retiring Skiers

The last races at Falun were something, pretty much laying waste to the fields. Here's the finish area as the also-rans come in from the women's 10k:

The race was the end of the great Petra Majdic's career, which led to some silliness, like Kowalcyzk's headband:

Madjic's suit:

and the donation of some home-making supplies to the Slovene:

I can't quantify this, but the XC skiing news streams seem to suggest that a greater-than-usual number of racers are retiring this spring. Below, a list of WC skiers who are retiring now or have already retired this season.

Jens Filbrich (Germany)
George Grey (Canada)
Tor Ruud Hofstad (Norway)
Jaak Mae (Estonia)
Börre Naess (Norway)
Jens Arne Svartedal (Norway)
Andrus Veerpalu (Estonia)
Vincent Vittoz (France)

Arianna Follis (Italy)
Petra Majdic (Slovenia)
Pirjo Muranen (Finland)
Kristin Størmer-Steira (Norway)

The retiring men are an accomplished group, but clearly beyond their best days. Some of the women, though, are going out on top. Ms. Fourth Place, Steira, has been a front-pack racer for years (though she earned more wooden medals than metal ones). Follis took the silver in the WC sprint and finished third in the overall WC, with six podiums this season, including a win in the freestyle sprint in Dusseldorf. Majdic won the bronze in the freestyle sprint at the World Championships and took the sprint WC this year, finishing on the podium seven times, including wins at Obersdorf and Toblach in the Tour de Ski and Otepaa and Stockholm in regular WC races.

Figuring that Follis and Majdic accounted for more than a dozen podium finishes this year, the racing - especially in the sprints - should be quite a bit more wide open next year. Right, Kikkan?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Northug's Next Challenges: Marcialonga and Vasaloppet

The skier everybody loves (to hate) says that he might race the 70km Marcialonga and 90km Vasaloppet in 2012. Without a major championships, these classic-technique long distance races seem like a good challenge - especially since both can be won with double-poling.

If he does show up, it'll be fascinating to see what happens. It'd be even better if other World Cup racers - men and women - came over to these two events, the premiere races in the FIS "Marathon Cup." Despite the ultra-long distances of the Marcialonga and Vasaloppet, the races are often decided in sprints within the last 500m - pretty much perfect for someone like the 'Thug. In fact, the former World Cup racer Jörgen Brink has won the last two editions of the Vasaloppet - both times in sprints.

(For the record, both races have been run as part of the World Cup. In 2004, Anders Aukland - then a top-level member of the Norwegian team, beat Giorgio di Centa at the Marcialonga. In 2006, a weak group of World Cup racers could not hang with the marathon specialists at the Vasaloppet, which was won by Daniel Tynell, a three-time Vasaloppet champion. In those years, Gabrielle Paruzzi won the women's Marcialonga and Marit Bjørgen won a shortened 45-km version of the Vasaloppet ahead of Hilde G. Pedersen, who went on to win the Marcialonga in 2007.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who the Hell Is Finn Hågen Krogh?

  1. A twenty-year-old junior ski racer from Norway.
  2. The second-place finisher in the general classification of the 2011 season finale at Falun.(Great Nordic Xplained race recap here.)
  3. The guy who, in moving up from eighth to second in the finale GC, posted the fastest time in the 15k skate pursuit, nearly a half-minute up on Maurice Manificat, one of the top few skaters in the world.
  4. The skier who closed a 5s gap to Dario Cologna and Giorgio diCenta with about 1000m remaining in that pursuit, then outsprinted Cologna to the line.
  5. A skier who has had only six World Cup starts, all in early 2011 - and the best of which, before Sunday, was a 21st in the Lahti 10+10 pursuit the previous weekend.
  6. A three-time World Junior medalist: a gold in the relay and a bronze in the 20km pursuit at the 2010 WJC in Hinterzarten plus a bronze in the relay at the 2009 WJC in Praz de Lys Sommand.
  7. A racer with five podium finishes in Scandinavian Cup races during the 2010-2011 season - including sprints and distance races and in both techniques (plus two other top-10s).
  8. Someone who seems like a good bet for the Norwegian national team in the 2011-2012 season.
  9. A racer who could well be the next Therese Johaug - or at least the next Kristin Størmer Steira.
  10. Or who could well be the next Ronny Hafsås.

Monday, March 14, 2011

World Champs Hits and Misses

The 2011 World Ski Championships have been over for more than a week now, so I figure I'd better write a leetle recap before the campfires in Holmenkollen are totally cold. (I'm sure you recall our recap of the 2009 Liberec Worlds, right?) I'm too blog-jaded to do a full, formal recap, so I'll just provide a few hits and misses.

The Kollen-brølet - 'Kollen roar - thanks to the half-million spectators who showed up. That's a lot of herring munchers! (Photo from Oskar Karlin's excellent World Champs photostream.)

The 'Kollen-tåte - 'Kollen fog. Look! The slightly faster gray blob is passing the slightly slower gray blob!

Apparently no dopers were caught at Oslo, even though at least one competed. (Two, if you're a Bjørgen-hater.)

Apparently no dopers were caught at Oslo.

Bjørgen's dominance of the women's events - four golds and a silver. Not bad, unlike this inexplicable banner along the track. With fans like these, who needs grumpy Polish rivals?

(Also from Oskar's photostream.)

Alexander Legkov. How do you say "choke" in Russian? I'm no longer thinking of him as the Russian #1: clearly Vylegzhanin is the superior skier, especially in big races. And Chernousov isn't far behind. Though Legkov has finished on a World Cup podium eleven times (including stage races), he hasn't yet won an individual medal at Worlds or the Olympics, while Vylegzhanin has four World Cup medals and three Worlds silvers, and even the relatively unknown Chernousov has three individual World Cup podiums and a Worlds bronze.

Marcus Hellner winning the hell(ner) out of the freestyle sprint. Amazing.

No American medals at all. Last year, Newell crashed out of the classic sprint; this year, Kikkan crashed out of the freestyle sprint. It's hard to keep the black side down in the big races. *sighs*

Yes Canadian gold. Alex Harvey's surge on the home stretch of the men's team sprint to pass Ola Vigen Hattestad and take Canada's first-ever World Championships gold was freaking awesome. Not only was it a superb finish to an excellent race, but it meant that Devon Kershaw - one of the best guys on the World Cup (fast skier, cool dude, and Packer fan!) - finally got to hang a gold medal around his neck. I love his superstitiousness:
Kershaw said he and Harvey also had a morning discussion about the race. “We woke up at 9:45 this morning and Alex said to me ‘So how will it feel to be the world champion tonight?’ I said, ‘don’t, don’t say that. I don’t want to jinx us. I knew we could be world champions, but I didn’t think we were going to be.”
And Harvey's win really made the Norwegians feel real real bad - or was it the shhh?

I know that there was some furor about Harvey's "shhh" gesture, but it paled in comparison to the bratty 'Thuggish grandstanding at the end of the relay. I hope I'm not just been North-Americocentric here, but - as I argued on March 4 - there's a huge difference between a few seconds of shhhing after crossing the line and Northug's extended mockery of his competition. Like I said, "Shameful."

Therese Johaug's amazing win in the 30km mass start. When she first climbed away from Bjørgen and Kowalcyzk, I figured that it wouldn't last, that they'd sweep her up well before the finish line. That didn't happen. The race was probably the best since the Olympic 50 last March. Nice win.

Last, I am honor bound to report that I won the very satisfying contest among the nordic-skiing bloggers who participated in the wonderful "XC Predictions" game for the Oslo Worlds. Of the 120 participants (of whom 41 made all of the possible predictions, rather than just one or two), I finished fourth, four spots ahead of Nordic Xplained and 55 spots ahead of Statistical Skier. The prediction contest continues through the end of the year!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Last Saturday, I was amazed by Therese Johaug's breakaway in the 30km at Holmenkollen. I just could not believe that her audacious move would stick, but of course it did, and paid off in her first-ever elite win - a World Championships, to boot.

Yesterday, watching the 5k+5k pursuit at Lahti, I was almost equally amazed to see Johaug pull away from the pack, dragging Justyna Kowalczyk with her. Even with 2k left, the eventual sprint seemed like a foregone conclusion: JK by a ski length. After all, the Pole is the defending sprint World Cup champion, while the Norwegian never even tries the sprints, and the Pole is a full five inches taller than the Norwegian. All that seemed to mean that Kowalczyk would have a decided advantage if the sprint came down to a ski throw at the line (a topic which NCP covered in depth two and a half years ago).

But I forgot about the wild card - the way Kowalczyk has still failed to master relatively elementary techniques like conserving speed through a downhill corner or throwing her ski at the right time. Check this hot mess out: JK started her throw 10 or 15 meters from the line, just far enough away to squander her height advantage:

Here was the result. JK had to actually start to pull her thrown leg back under her to avoid falling before the line, allowing the much shorter Johaug to stick her left foot out and take the win.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Northug: Jævle Barnunge

Or "jävla barnunge" in Swedish - a fucking brat.

I had built up a tiny bit of respect for the guy over the course of the current season, but it was pulverized by his pathetic display of poor sportsmanship and raw arrogance at the end of the men's relay. After lying in wait through most of the last leg, Northug launched a characteristic attack inside the last 500 meters. It was clear to everyone that he'd won, but instead of respecting the race, the venue, and his fellow racers, he then skied slowly down the finishing straight, shushing the crowd, and actually *stopped* before the finish line, taunting Hellner, before finally stepping over the line at the last second to take the win. It was shameful.

I can only hope that Petter has a DeSean Jackson one of these days:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ski Service

The life of a service(wo)man at a Marathon Cup race - January's Marcialonga in this case, but next week's Vasaloppet just the same:

Men's Relay

Today's women's relay was probably the least interesting race of the World Championships. I didn't even bother to make a prediction, since the result was as much a foregone conclusion as any result could be. So long as Bjørgen raced, Norway would win - and they did. From the results of previous races at Worlds - and, really, from the results of the World Cup races since Christmas - it was obvious that Finland and Sweden were the next strongest teams, with Italy comparable on a good day. Italy didn't figure today, being two fast skiers short of a relay team and leaving the silver and bronze medals to Sweden and Finland.

Friday's men's relay should be much more interesting. Clearly, Norway (Johnsrud Sundby, Roenning, Gjerdalen, Northug) and Sweden (Rickardsson, Olsson, Soedergren, Hellner) will - at least on paper - vie for the win. Russia (Vylegzhanin, Volzhentsev, Legkov, Chernousov), Switzerland (Livers, Cologna, Fischer, and Perl), and possibly Finland (Nousiainen, Jauhojaervi, Lallukka, Heikkinen) might get into the medals fight as well. Just as Germany and Italy have underperformed over the whole season to date, we've seen nothing from either country's racers to suggest that either of those teams will finish anywhere near the medals. The French are having a mediocre Worlds, and the Czechs seem to be off their Tour de Ski peak. Thus, my picks:

1. Norway
2. Sweden
3. Russia

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

World Champions


(Photo stolen from

Monday, February 28, 2011

Oslo Worlds Medal Table

The only medals table I can find is the Worlds organizers', which includes all the sports being contested at Oslo - cross-country, jumping, and nordic combined. Here's a table of just the cross-country skiing medals. Scroll right to see a details the medalists and events.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Marit's Chances

I considered Thursday's freestyle sprints to be hors d'œuvres for the rest of the World Championships, so I was happy the semis and the finals were all excellent competitions - even if the North Americans did not quite ski up to expectations. Marit Bjørgen and Marcus Hellner both skied tough, clean races that they won on strength and speed - not luck or even guile.

While Bjørgen's gold was more or less expected, especially after Kikkan Randall crashed out, Hellner's was surprising. He fearlessly went off the front early in the final and then, marvelously, stayed away right up to the line, where he had a chance to kick up one ski à la Thomas Alsgaard in the '03 Worlds relay. Hellner's gold proves that Northug can be beaten in a sprint - you just have to go off the front before he expects it and then not let up. (Axel Teichmann, please note this.)

Saturday's women's pursuit is the first distance race of the Worlds, and the first chance for Bjørgen to add to her collection of major-event gold medals, now standing at eight (including team events: five at Worlds and three at the Olympics; individually: three at Worlds and two at the Olympics).

In fact, I'd have to say - based on both her form this year and my inveterate Norge-philia - that there's an outside chance Bjørgen could win every race at Worlds. She's clearly the favorite in any distance event, she's got to be half of Norway's team sprint, and of course she's the logical anchor for the relay.

Can she win six golds in Oslo? Sure she can. Will she? I don't think so. Even top-notch racers can choose to sit out a race (Petra Majdic is skipping the women's pursuit and Bauer is not racing the men's pursuit, and of course Bjørgen could get hurt or sick. Barring any of those circumstances, though, I wouldn't expect her to win fewer than four golds (sprint, team sprint, relay, and one of the individual distance races) - and to medal in the other two events. For whatever it's worth, I join the rest of the ski world in picking her to win Saturday's pursuit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oslo, Finally

With or without Andrus Veerpalu, the Oslo World Ski Championships are underway. A New Zealander and a Dane won today's qualifying races, but I think the freestyle sprint podiums will include the usual suspects:

I can't wait...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

North American Skiing's Best-Ever Day

Today's freestyle sprints at Drammen have to rank up as the best-ever day for North American cross-country skiing: Canadian Alex Harvey took second behind only Emil Jönsson and ahead of Petter Northug in the men's race, and American Kikkan Randall won the women's race, which included an out-of-the-running Marit Bjørgen. And both results sheets had plenty of other good results. On the men's side, Len Valjas (CAN) finished ninth and Andy Newell (USA) finished eighteenth; on the women's side, Chandra Crawford (CAN) finished fourteenth and Dasha Gaiazova finished twentieth. (Minnsotan Jessie Diggins finished 46th, failing to make the heats but winding up ahead of some serious skiers, like Norwegian Marthe Kristoffersen.)

The only way Sunday's results will be eclipsed if Harvey, Randall, or others take medals on Thursday in the freestyle sprints at Worlds.

Oddly enough, the top four women all had double-L names: Randall, Falla, Kalla, Follis - what do you make of that, Statistical Skier?

(Photo courtesy of Swix Nordic.)

Drammen Sprints

The freestyle sprints at Konnerud are already under way, but I'll post the predictions I made yesterday anyhow. With the best Russian men missing, we're not getting a true picture of that field, but the women's field is as full of fast racers as it will be next Thursday, when the freestyle sprints will happen at Holmenkollen.

Friday, February 18, 2011


The Oslo Worlds are less than a week away, just the other side of the last tune-up races at Drammen, Norway. Not the familiar (and, frankly, awesome) city-center sprints of the last few years, this year's events are being held at the Konnerud winter-sports park just outside Drammen.

The stakes are high, of course. The Czech head coach Miroslav Petrasek - who has some decent skiers on his squad - said, "You don’t have to win but if you are not in top ten, you can forget a medal from the Worlds. Top shape won’t come in a week." On the other hand, a commentator for Norwegian TV finds that doing too well just before Worlds means you probably won't be in the right form to win there:
In front of the last eight championships (Olympics and World Championships) has the winner of the general test of distance has never been an individual gold medalist. The last one was able feat in the men's side was Mika Myllylä. He won both the final race before the World Championships in Ramsau in 1999, and became king of the tournament with three gold and a silver individually.
So let me curse some skiers with my predictions over at XC Predictions for the Drammen distance events - 10/15km interval-start classic races:

In addition to these ten racers, I'd add the following athletes to the pool of skiers whom Petrasek would see as possible distance-event winners in Oslo:

Petter Northug
Devon Kershaw
Alexander Legkov
Maxim Vylegzhanin
Tobias Angerer

Arianna Follis
Marianna Longa
Charlotte Kalla
Krista Lahteenmaki
Astrid U. Jacobsen

It'll be interesting to see if Petrasek and/or the NRK blogger is right - that the top 10 at Drammen will supply the medalists at Oslo, but the the Drammen winners won't be on the podiums at Oslo.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Holmen Cow!

The Oslo Worlds organizers just put up a fascinating page about the 30 and 50km tracks at Holmenkolllen - "the world's hardest ski course." The women's course - can we call it Marit's Regret?- is actually 31.6km in length and includes 1,193 of climbing - 61m more than the previous record, at Torino. (The Vancouver 30 included a mere 1,056 meters of climbing.)

Even more impressively, the "50km" race is actually 2,860 meters (five percent!) longer than that, and contains more climbing than any other racecourse in the world - 1,998 meters worth. The course profile is almost as awesome as the races - freestyle mass starts (Saturday, March 5 for the women, Sunday, March 6 for the men) - should be.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Man. vs. Machine

Forget racing the 50km, Marit: how about racing a Pisten Bully?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Otepääst Script: Bibs, Boards, and Bandanas

The racing in Otepää was pretty damn good, as usual. No Estonians reached the podium, so they'd better start tweaking their "training." Worlds is just a few weeks away!

The bibs were matter of fact. The female sprinters and male distance racers wore the logo of Swedbank, which is, unsurprisingly, a Swedish bank - "the leading bank in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." If the bibs inspired any Americans, you could go open an account at Swedbank New York.


Judging by her demeanor on the start line, Marit really liked the bib's fit and finish. Alas, she couldn't quite dominate the sprint the way she had pwned the distance race, which she won by a lot.

On the other hand, Kowalczyk either didn't like the flat, easy sprint course or didn't like the bib - she does shill for Polbank, a (you guessed it) Polish bank, so maybe it's a sponsor thing. Regardless, you could kinda see from her demeanor that she wasn't gunning for the win, and wound up finishing fourth - six spots ahead of Grinnin' Marit.

The male sprinters and female distance racers wore bibs adorned with the most philosophical logo of the World Cup, that of Ergo, the "the leading company in the area of private health and legal costs insurance in Europe." If I'd known that before the races, I'd have klistered my eyeballs. As it is, my ignorance was only exceeded by the hilarity of seeing Russian journeyman sprinter Michail Devjatiarov do this on the start line.
Dude, sit down. Sure, you won a race once, almost four years ago now, but since then you've only made one final. Worry less about your bandanas and more about your double poling.