Welcome to World Cup Windup, where we check in with the top-10 teams from last year’s FIS Cross Country World Cup tour before the season starts with the Ruka Triple in Kuusamo, Finland, on Nov. 24.
Overall in Nations Cup Last Year: Fourth
Women’s Ranking 2016/2017: Fifth
Men’s Ranking 2016/2017: Second
Ust-iu-gov! Ust-iu-gov! Sergey Ustiugov, a sensation in the last two seasons, is back for more. There’s also top-20 ranked overall skiers Alexander Bessmertnykh and Andrey Larkov, seventh-ranked sprinter Natalia Matveeva, 10th-ranked distance skier Yulia Tchekaleva, and runner-up in the U23 standings Yulia Belorukova – who along with Matveeva won silver in the team sprint at 2017 World Championships. Plus, 2010 Olympic sprint gold medalist Nikita Kriukov, who didn’t have an individual podium last season but won World Championships team sprint gold with Ustiugov. Who else is back is a bit complicated as …
… Alexander Legkov, Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexey Petukhov, Evgeny Belov, and Evgenia Shapovalova are all racing in pre-World Cup FIS races, but have been banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping at the 2014 Olympics. They are appealing their cases, but if the ruling holds, they will at the very least miss the 2018 Olympics. The International Ski Federation (FIS) may or may not implement a ban of their own which would keep the five off the World Cup. Julia Ivanova was also banned by the IOC but has not returned to racing.
So far, a number of Russians have done well in pre-season FIS racing. Ilia Chernousov finished second to Switzerland’s Dario Cologna in a trial in Davos. Alexey Chervotkin won a 15 k skate in Muonio, Finland, where Maxim Vylegzhanin picked up two top-six finishes and last year’s U23 World Champion Alexander Bolshunov won a 10 k classic. Natalia Nepryaeva also shone on the women’s side.
The biggest drama, of course, is the doping investigation which has enveloped the previously-mentioned five athletes (and Julia Ivanova, who has retired and is no longer racing).
Russian news recently reported that Yulia Tchekaleva, Anastasia Dotsenko, Natalia Matveeva, Natalia Zhukova, Natalia Korosteleva, Alexander Bessmertnykh, and Nikita Kriukov were also on the “Duchess List” of athletes allegedly given performance-enhancing drugs at Sochi. They have not been asked to have hearings with the IOC Disciplinary Commission, but it is possible that this could still occur.
Dotsenko took last season off to have a baby, but is back in training this year.
Coach Yuri Kaminski talked about why Nikita Kriukov might be dangerous this year: “Neither in Vancouver nor at the last World Championships was he the favorite. In this regard, the Vancouver situation and the current one are somewhere similar.” By contrast, at the 2014 Olympics he was a favorite and did not win, teaming up with Vylegzhanin to finish second in the team sprint. “Sergey [Ustiugov] goes to the Olympic Games as a favorite, and this greatly complicates life. The situation, I would say, is exactly the same as that of Kriukov before Sochi, where he was coming in as a two-time World Champion in a sprint. It was believed that he was obliged to win at least one gold medal, that’s the way the task was set… all this was very hard. And it so happened that the circumstances turned against us.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Panzhinsky still smarts from his just-by-a-toe loss to Kriukov in the 2010 Olympic sprint, and wants to win in PyeongChang: “I was burning inside from that defeat for a very long. And I dreamed many times, and thought about those last seconds a lot. Although on the other hand, it may be worthwhile to look at it as a very big plus for me. I really was very young in Vancouver. If I won, I took this career best for an athlete… [instead] it was motivation that helped me survive all these difficult years, when there were no big victories. And now it helps to keep this goal, to become an Olympic champion. This is generally the main task in my career.”
Best Social Media Presence:
If you don’t know the Russian team outside their results or racing, social media is an excellent way to fix that. Alexander Panzhinskiy makes sure to translate the captions of (most of) his posts from Russian into English and makes an effort to connect to the sport’s global fanbase.
Ilya Chernousov also posts primarily in English, and makes training in Switzerland look pretty okay. He trains primarily with a long-distance race team, however, and is not part of the Russian national training group.
If you don’t understand Russian, however, it’s probably best to stick with a visual medium. Sergey Ustiugov and his girlfriend, World Cup skier Elena Soboleva, both have great Instagram feeds (Sergey’s / Elena’s).
Or, you could peek inside the training life with Sergey Turyshev.