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.


Luke S said...

I think I've seen it written that she hasn't yet committed to the Team Sprint. If she drops a race, thats the one she'll skip. Otherwise, I think she can easily win 5 Golds.

oliver said...

Team Symbicort for the win!

Christopher Tassava said...

Oliver, you win the prize for the meanest comment ever posted on NCP. Awesome and hilarious.

xcrules said...

Christopher, could we legitimately compare today's pursuit race to the cycling days of Armstrong/Ullrich/Heras and Armstrong/Basso/Rubiera/whoever else? I think that could be interesting, because you have similar attributes to all athletes that i put up there, and perhaps in similar situations.

Christopher Tassava said...

xcrules, I like the analogy. Bjørgen is clearly the boss of the "peloton," and Kowalczyk is a clear #2 who can only win then the boss screws up - and sometimes not even then. Johaug is a climbing machine, like Heras and Rubeiro, but that's where the analogy (might) fall apart - she definitely tried to win the race today, not just support Bjørgen.