VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (March 1) &emdash; Two-time Olympian Carl Swenson (Boulder, CO), the top skater on the U.S. Ski Team, put an exclamation point Saturday on the team's performance at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships as he finished fifth in the 50-km freestyle race behind surprise gold medalist Martin Koukal of the Czech Republic with Swedes filling the next three places.
NBC will broadcast coverage from the World Championships Sunday 1-3 p.m. EST. Italy wound up medal-less for the championships.
Koukal won in 1:54.25.3 with the silver medal going to Anders Soedergren in 1:54.40.3 on another sunny, 40-degree day in the Val di Fiemme's Lago di Tesero course of machinemade snow. Joergen Brink, whose collapse at the end of the men's 4×10-km relay when it looked like Sweden would take gold, was bronze medalist for the third time at the championships (1:55.09.0).
THIRD ALLTIME BEST U.S. RESULT
Swenson, 32, and a pro mountain biker during the spring and summer, was second at the 12.5-km mark &emdash; before he broke a ski pole and lost about 30 seconds. Still, he finished a career-best fifth with a time of 1:55.49.2, which also was third alltime best result by a U.S. skier at any Worlds, behind Bill Koch's bronze medal in the 30-km at the 1982 Worlds in Oslo and Kris Freeman's fourth in the 15-km classic Feb. 21.
“This was a tough race,” Swenson, a former Dartmouth ski captain, told reporters. “But I was having a good time; I had great skis &emdash; our wax team did another tremendous job.
“It really came down to who could survive those final five Ks.”
One day after Johnny Spillane's gold medal in the nordic combined sprint electrified the championships &emdash; the first nordic gold by a U.S. skier at the Olympics or Worlds, Swenson said that was a spur for him. “They've been great championships for us. Kris Freeman started it with his fourth in the 15K and then Johnny's gold [Friday] was great,” he said.
He snapped the pole when he tripped over another skier who crashed in front of him at about 14-km mark. “It was a early in the second [12.5-km] lap and I normally could've gone either way around him, but he was right in front of me, we crashed and the pole broke yeah, frustrating, but that's also ski racing,” Swenson reasoned.
ASHLEY: COMMITMENT ASSURES MORE SUCCESS
He skied his way back into the race but the lost pole may have cost him a better shot at the podium. Still, he was wearing a very satisfied look during the top-6 podium ceremony and as FIS President Gian-franco Kasper shook his hand and congratulated him on the race.
USSA Vice President of Athletics Alan Ashley, understandably buoyant about the U.S. results at the championships, said, “We've seen nearly two weeks of outstanding skiing, and certainly two great events in the last 24 hours. Johnny did a great job [Friday] and Carl he's so tough. He goes down when he's second, snaps a pole, finally gets one, and works his way back. He's just such a tough guy.
“These results are the product of great teamwork &emdash; the athletes and coaches, for sure, the waxers, the support personnel &emdash; medical personnel, conditioning and physiotherapists and nutrition and we've made some good steps forward,” Ashley said. “But we've also got a long way to go Norway gets something like 14 medals in cross country alone, and they don't get a single medal in the last two races.
“We're not kidding ourselves. The athletes have bought into the dedication and we're going to keep providing opportunities for success but we've still got a lot of work to do. We all know it and. From everything I see and hear, we're going to make it happen.”
Swenson, who skied eighth in the field of 66 racers, was fifth or sixth throughout the second half of the race. His best previous performance was last Sunday in the mass-start, skiathlon (10-km CL leading into a 10-km free technique race) and 11th in a 30-km FR, mass-start race in Ramsau, Austria, in December 2001.
The viessmann Cross Country World Cup resumes March 6-8 at Holmenkollen in Oslo with classic 1.5-km sprints for men and women plus the women's 30-km CL and men's 50-km CL.
2003 FIS NORDIC WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Lago di Tesero
Val di Fiemme, ITA &emdash; March 1
Men's 50-km Free Technique
1. Martin Koukal, Czech Republic, 1:54.25.3
2. Anders Soedergren, Sweden, 1:54.40.3
3. Joergen Brink, Sweden, 1:55.09.0
4. Mathias Fredriksson, Sweden, 1:55.25.2
5. Carl Swenson, Boulder, CO, 1:55.49.3
37. Andrew Johnson, Greensboro, VT, 2:00.16.9
48. Lars Flora, Anchorage, AK, 2:02.59.8
58. Justin Freeman, Andover, NH, 2:07.26.3
30K FR to Savialova; ITA Still 0-for-VDF
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (Feb. 28) &emdash; On another sun-bathed day in the Val di Fiemme, Olga Savialova of Russia &emdash; who skipped the sprint two days earlier &emdash; collected her third medal of the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships as she won the women's 30-km freestyle race Friday by 9.7 seconds over teammate Elena Burukina.
Aubrey Smith (Seward, AK), the lone American racer, was 39th; with one remaining, Italy has no medals for the championships.
NBC will televise coverage from the World Championships 1-3 p.m. EST Sunday.
Savialova, who took bronze in the 15-km classic to open the championships at the Lago di Tesero course and bronze in the skiathlon, finished in 1:08.11.7 with Burukina taking silver in 1:08.21.4. The bronze medal &emdash; and her fourth of the championships &emdash; went to Kristina Smigun of Estonia, the skiathlon gold medalist and silver medalist in the 15-km and 10-km classic races.
Smith, who graduates in May from Northern Michigan University, was the first skier on-course in the final women's race. She finished her first Worlds in a time of 1:17.55.1.
The last cross country race of the championships, which also were held in Val di Fiemme &emdash;Â near Trento &emdash; in 1991, will be the men's 50-km FR Saturday. Gabriella Paruzzi, fourth in the 10-km CL and fifth in the skiathlon (5-km CL leading into 5-km FR), gave Italy another strong run for the podium, finishing fourth, just 2.5 seconds off Smigun in 1:08.43.7.