This event was held for the first time ever at a World Championship today at Val Di Fiemme. The organizer used two different 2.5 km competition courses, one groomed for the classical technique part and one for the free technique part. The 71 competitors skied through the stadium several times, and after 5 km stopped to switch skis and poles (from classical to skating).
The mass-start format again looked great on TV and for the spectating audience. The short mass-start race creates demands for the organizer in terms of track setting, course width, course layout and preparation. It was very crowded in front for the entire race, with skiers fighting for position.
Early in the morning, the Jury got the news that the big race favorite Bente Skari had gotten ill through food poisoning or a stomach virus, and would not start the race. This opened up the race for Kristina Smigun, which had taken silver behind Bente in the previous two races. And Kristina showed her class by outsprinting 7 other skiers in the last 500 m of the race. Beckie Scott was one of them, ending up in 6th place only 1.5 seconds from Gold medal.
Beckie was in the lead group (top 10) most of the race, and leading the field going out from the stadium on the last 2.5 km loop. Sara Renner was in 17th, Wendy Wagner in 44th as teh best US skier.
An interesting point in this new event is the so called “pit stop”. The pit stop is a 70 – 90 m long area in the middle of the stadium where the skiers come in to switch equipment. Each racer has a 2 x 2 m (6 feet) marked and signed area where they leave their skating equipment prior to the race. After skiing 5 km they then turn into the pit stop area, and ski into their 2 x 2 m “box” where they have to switch equipment. The organizer takes the “pit stop” time for each skier – from they enter the 70 m long area until the they leave. In todays race, Kristina Smigun had the fastest pit stop time also, 26.1 seconds – which include skiing 70 m as well as switching equipment inside her assigned box.
Tomorrows 10+10 km mens race will be a dog fight for 90+ skiers expected to enter. The men race on two 3.3 km loops, and the relatively short loops have no long and demanding sections in them, thus making for a very close race.
Report to follow after the race.