Friday, December 16, 2011

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


Anonymous said...

Darn, I thought you were gonna say, 'ok Marit, own are doped to the gills!' LOL