Today, on the last day of the 2003 Nordic World Ski Championship, we can appreciate yet more proof that US Nordic skiing is moving closer to the best in the sport. Yesterday, Johhny Spillane was able to outsprint the Nordic Combined favorites for the first ever Nordic World Championship Gold Medal, and today Carl Swenson was in the medal hunt the entire 50 km race.
In the Nordic Combined 7.5 km “Sprint” race, Johnny skied up to the 3 person lead group with about one lap to go in the 3 x 2.5 km race. The lead group seemed to start positioning themselves for the final 2 km, and noone seemed to want to take the lead. At this point Johhny pushed real hard to close the gap to the group and managed to get contact just before they “took off” again. Trailing last in the group for the rest of the last lap, he seemed to gain energy as they got closer to the finish line. In the last, straight 200 m full-out sprint to the finish he easily skied around the other three skiers and won by about 10 – 15 meters. In the last 5 seconds of the race he even had time to swing the poles over his head in a wild celebration. The whole Nordic Combined support team had been waiting for this medal moment for several years, and the Gold Medal seemed to make up for several frustrating Championships in the recent past.
In the final event of the Championship, the mens 50 km free technique, individual start race, Carl Swenson was early on the skier to beat for the rest of the field. He started out with bib number 8, and the seeded group (Red group) started one by one a few minutes behind. Already at the first intermediate timing point at 2.2 km Carl was in the top 5 after the whole field had passed. As we followed the race from the stadium, he seemed to easily match the speed of the Reg Group skiers. The course consisted of a 7.5 km and a 5 km loop that were skied alternately. The skiers therefore passed through the stadium often, and we could monitor the speed and times at almost every 2 – 4 km of the race.
After about 20 km Carl had moved up to second place, looking extremely relaxed and confident, skiing in his familiar long gliding skating strides. He was at this point skiing the fastest of the entire field, moving up in position. Suddenly, at the next timing point he had dropped over 30 second and several places on the intermediate ranking list. We soon learned that he had crashed into another skier on the course, lost his pole and skied for about 1 km with one pole only.
Wow, what a blow to Carl – I can only imagine his throughts and frustration. Anyhow, throughout the next 15 km he slowly moved up in the field, creating exitement for the spectators and all the internation broadcast stations. At 45 km he was back in third place, 14 seconds ahead of number four – would it be another US medal? Carl looked strong coming into the finish, but said he had been “out of juice” on the last 5 km loop. We waited impatiently as the skiers finished one by one, and realized eventually that the group of three Swedish skiers arriving together had picked up the pace in the end – and ended up 2, 3 and 4. Carl had lost the bronze by about 30 seconds, in my mind for sure caused by his crash and broken pole.
However, in summary of these Championships, the results had been a tremendous improvement for US Nordic skiing. One Nordic Combined gold, a fourth and fourteenth place for Kris Freeman (and a lead in the first leg of the relay), a fifth and eleventh for Carl Swenson. In addition, Kris and Carl were right with the winners, placing just a few seconds behind in each case. This shows that Carl and Kris can be a measuring tool for the rest of the skiers in the US – they are now in an exclusive World class group.