Friday, January 20, 2012

Does Chandra Crawford have her mojo back?

Chandra Crawford is a woman who needs no introduction. Few who have stood at the top step of an Olympic podium, especially North Americans in cross country skiing, do.

But following her heroic Olympic experience, Crawford had a 2007 season to forget before a strong 2008, but slowly slipped, never dominating as many would expect an Olympic Champion or even podium placer to do.

The sprinting world changed significantly after her gold medal. Courses were slowly lengthened, blunting Crawford’s vicious speed in favor of athletes with slightly more fitness. An extra two people were added to each quarter, semi, and final, creating more chances for incidents to happen.

She was also laid low by injury, as a pesky ankle tendon problem forced her to cut back on her training, and several different types of treatment proved ineffective.

It would have been fair at the end of the 2010-2011 season to ask if her career was on the down-turn - for good.

She failed to make a single A-Final. The medal she earned – a team-sprint bronze paired with Dasha Gaiazova – came courtesy of an epic Slovenian blunder, where Katja Visnar face-planted into the snow 20 meters from the line, and Crawford cruised by for the medal. Her World Cup point total of 59 was a far cry from the 319 she earned in 2008. And at 29 years old, she could no longer be considered a rising star in the Canadian system. As happens in any sport, there were people who felt that she had her moment in the limelight, and wondered whether Canadian resources would be better spent elsewhere.

Those doubts have been crushed. She seems to have put it all behind her, and utterly flattened any pundit predictions for the season.

Just how good has she been? Well, seeing as in North America it’s sometimes difficult for us to see around Kikkan’s biceps to anyone else, it’s worth noting that Crawford finished 4th in Dusseldorf, 9th in Davos, and most recently was 7th in Milan before tag-teaming with Perianne Jones to collect a team-sprint bronze medal.

Add to that her impressive performance just before Christmas, where she finished second in Rogla, picking up her first individual World Cup medal since Lahti, Finland, in 2008 – back before Natalia Matveeva took her FIS-enforced vacation, and you have a pretty sweet season. But don’t call it a comeback.

Crawford now sits 5th in the Sprint Cup rankings, and isn’t out of the hunt – she trails Norwegian Maiken Caspersen Falla by 72 points for the final spot on the podium.

She looks fit, fast, strong, and according to this very recent report by FasterSkier, is loving the vibe coming from the North American success. Which if you've ever talked to Crawford, makes sense.

Half-Arsed Predictions

Yes, I realize I just expounded the fact 'Chuck' (Crawford's nickname) was on a warpath with hot results. I don't think it will translate as well to classic sprinting, never her strong discipline. But I have no problem being wrong...