Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sizz-What and Boos for Bjoergen

While I have literally no idea how to actually pronounce this weekends' World Cup venue, there is no doubt in my mind that Poland will put on a show.

There are also loads of questions swirling about performances, at least in my mind.

Here are a few of the potential headlines:

- Can Kikkan Randall bounce back from illness and a weekend off of racing to win another skate sprint? Which is a must if she wants that Sprint Cup title...

- The American women batted .500 last weekend - Saturday was sub-par, but they responded well with a killer relay. While it says just how far American skiing has come this year to describe a World Cup point-free day as 'sub-par' - including Diggins finishing 33rd - will the hottest ladies on the circuit scoop up some much-needed points to ensure a berth at World Cup Finals in Sweden?

- The enigmatic Chandra Crawford. Before Christmas she lit the trails on fire. Aside from the city sprint in Milan, she's been asleep. Judging from her recent blog activity, she has had some difficult times in her personal life, and while the NCP wishes a speedy and full recovery for Crawford's mother, the questions regarding her racing form remain.Link
- What will the crowds be like? First-ever World Cup in Justyna-mad Poland - if the World Cups that I have been to and the few rabid Polish fans I've met are any indication, it's going to be a circus. Also - will we hear boos for Bjoergen? The ferocious debate between the fans of both camps makes NFL, MLB and NHL rivalries look tame (read the comments - the one about Kowalczyks parents feeling threatened is especially funny).

- And speaking of Justyna, will Kowalczyk respond to her home fans adoration by knocking the races out of the park? As the skate sprint and classic middle distance are arguably her two best events, the FIS has certainly tried to keep it fair...

- Devon Kershaw. We all know why, but thanks to Statistical Skier for summing it up so nicely.

- Can Emil Joensson regain his former unbeatable speed? This season sprinting has come up all Alexei Petukhov and Teodor Peterson because Joensson hasn't had the jam. Last seasons' Sprint Cup champion sits 18th in the Sprint Cup rankings - closer to missing the cut for World Cup Finals than a big honkin' paycheque.

- While we won't get to hear Andrew Musgrave's name 10,000 times as the quick Brit isn't starting, the Chinese are showing up with three men. Are they going to do well? Probably not, but who doesn't like rooting for an underdog?

Finally, while I do quite poorly in the prediction game most days, that doesn't stop me from making some...

Half Arsed Predictions

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Muscle-Headed Estonians and Holy MosCOW

After a weekend break for Marcialonga action, the World Cup resumes this week with yet another city sprint – but this time it’s in Moscow, Russia.

While I’m going to reserve my thoughts on the city sprint for another day, I will say that I’m damn glad the technique is skate.

Although these days it doesn’t seem to matter - the “classic” sprint in Estonia two weeks ago featured 90% of the men using skate equipment, and a ridiculous double-pole hammer-fest.

I have to be honest here; I hate double-pole only classic sprints.


Ever since the little-known Boerre Naess (the 2008 edition of Ronny Andre Hafsaas) hammered his way around the loop at the Canmore Nordic Center at the World Cup on pure double-pole power, I’ve felt somewhat tricked by classic sprints.

It’s pretty simple; I think classic skiing is awesome. The nice powerful striding is the absolute best part of the whole experience, so if you remove that element, in my mind you’re no longer classic skiing. If it’s a classic sprint, there should be some classic skiing. End of story.

Let’s be clear here – the athletes and teams are blameless in this mess. Obviously you’re going to use the fastest equipment you have, whether it’s skate or classic. The blame should mostly be placed at the feet of organizers and track designers – if you make a course with plenty of long gradual striding ups that don’t have a zippy downhill right before it, there won’t be any skate-ski users.

This might be excusable for a first time organizer – say, for example, if Poland had a classic sprint with just double-poling, and no technical down-hills, I wouldn’t be surprised (I wonder why they would do that…)

So it baffles me that Estonians messed it up not just once, but twice! Last year they ran exactly the same course, and everyone double-poled it – what did they honestly think had happened? Every World Cup athlete had skipped their gym sessions in the last 12 months??

Ola Vigen Hattestad: “Hey, Dario, been hitting the gym much this year?”

Dario Cologna: “No way, Hat City, I really want to be able to stride that classic sprint course in Estonia this year. How about you, Petukhov?”

Alexei Petukhov: “…"

Furthermore, I view Estonia is the unofficial king of producing good classic skiers. Andrus Veerpalu, and Jaak Mae, pre-doping scandal, as well as Kristina Smigun were all pretty damn good at classic skiing. The striding part especially, so you would think that Estonian course-makers would have it figured out that when people classic ski, they want to actually classic ski.

Fine, maybe you imagine Estonia is as flat as a pancake, and they don’t actually have any hills long enough that you can’t just hammer up them. Yet somehow for the distance races on Sunday they found such hellishly difficult hills that no one could double-pole.

As Devon Kershaw, apparently now known as a ‘Canadian Nordic Knight’ (utter and massive barf at that nickname, courtesy of Canadian amateur-sport talking head Scott Russell – thanks for the profile of our sport, Scott, but cheesy nicknames don’t sell it) put it in a press release on the CCC website Sunday:

“The climbs out here hare are relentless and punishing. They are so long which we don’t normally ski,” said Kershaw. “The Estonians know how to set up a course to ensure the strongest man wins.”

What the hell Estonia? No wonder you’re not getting the World Cup back

But on to Moscow. Judging from the Twitter-splosion coming from both Canadian and American teams, everyone is pretty excited about the chance to slug it out in the Russian capital.

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed they didn’t use Red Square, but I can understand that using the Pisten Bulley to push protestors out of the way would not exactly have been a Russian government public-relations coup (whoops – really have to be careful using that word in the same sentence as ‘Russian government’).

Instead, at least according to FIS, they’re using the Luzhniki Olympic Stadium, which is apparently the biggest sports stadium in Russia. Sounds good!

But on to my...

Half-Arsed Prediction