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