Day 2 summary – Mens 30 km mass-start
The perfect weather and snow conditions in Val Di Fiemme continous, and Wednesdays Mens 30 km mass-start event became one of the all-time best for the sport and TV audience here in Europe.
The race was held on a 7.5 km loop, followed continously with TV cameras placed around the course. The large field started to spread out early, but the lead group was never less than 14 skiers until the very end of the race. The lead group contained skiers from many countries; Sweden , Norway, Germany, Estonia, Austria and Italy, but on the last lap the favorites started to really emerge.
The TV audience saw closeups of several crashes along the way – some involving skiers in the lead group as well. The courses here are very technical, with steep ups and down. The uphill slopes are some of the steepest we see in World Championship venues, the best skiers barely able to climb without herringboning. The downhills contain several sharp corners, and it was amazing to see the “peleton” coming through these parts of the course.
On the last lap, the Estonian Veerpalu got away from the rest of the field, having about a 10 second lead with 3 km to go. Everyone thought the race favorite at that point would just ski away from the field. The Norwegian threesome Ahlsgaard, Estil and Aukland however agreed on something else. At about 1.5 km left they had caught Verpalu, and on the last easy 1 km of the course noone could guess the outcome. Coming into the stadium, the three Norwegians were side by side, with Veerpalu closed in being them, and in the middle track with no hope of passing. The medals were clear, with an amazing Thomas Ahlsgaard first. Thomas had gotten 32 in the Norwegian Championship two weeks earlier, and was not even supposed to ski the race. However, 3 days before the event, he had sent this e-mail message to the teams head coach: “I am feeling great, I want to race”.
With his “clout”, he was entered in the race regardless of his poor pre-Championship results – and showed he is a real Champion. He has now won medals in the last 8 World Championships/Olympics – a feat he is alone with.
Last night I was invited to the Norwegian Broadcast Companies live (NRK) broadcast from the Championships – at 9 – 10 PM primetime. Sitting in the audience I was impressed that NRK (equivalent to CBS) had moved their entire Sport Department as well as their nightly entertainment show (ala Letterman) to Val Di Fiemme for these two weeks. It truly showed that Cross-Country skiing is stil popular in these parts of the World.
Day 3 – Womens 10 km Classic individual start
Another beautiful day at the foothills of the Dolomites. The Womens individual start race was not as exiting as the prior days mass-start races, but showed great and fast skiing. Bente Skari easily won her second Gold, pulling along one of her team mates that started 30 seconds ahead to bronze.
Wendy Wagner started extremely well, being top 12 at the 2 km mark. The demanding course however took its toll, and Wendy was not able to keep up the pace. She finished 38th. Beckie Scott finished 8th, while Sara Renner started very well, nearly even with Beckie through half the race, but faded to 16th.
The womens field is not as deep as usual, with the normal Russian women not being here. However, Bente Skari is now in a class by herself, this week being knicknamed “Ben” or called skiing by herself in the “Bente-classification”.
Tomorrows Mens 15 km classic race is more open, with the Estonian Veerpalu again being the favorite. The Norwegians will have a harder time grouping up to ski his pace in an individual race. The US is looking forward to Kris Freeman starting and skiing well, especially after much of the team having been sick and not able to start with a full group.
We have not heard more results from the high hemoglobin values announced a few days ago. We are however learning that the Finish skier that was measured with too high Hb values is dating the (old) coach responsible for the disastrous doping scandal two years ago at the last World Championship (Lahti 2001).
For Offcial Results, go to <www.fis-ski.com
For Pictures of the Races and real time results during the races, go to <www.valdifiemme2003.com
More from the Worlds coming later in the week.