Norway, Norway, Norway:: Today was without a doubt NorwayÂ´s day. In the womenÂ´s relay, the combination of veteran skier, Hilde Pedersen, and ski queen, Marit Bjoergen, easily mantained control through out the entire final, with Bjoergen putting down the hammer a few times and creating sizeable gaps. It seems as though Bjoergen is skiing at a completly different level than the rest of the womenÂ´s field. She is simply stronger and technically much more stabile. Clearly, the only way to beat her is in the exchange zone. By this I mean, only a fall or broke pole is going to slow her down. And Today, there were plenty of those, most notely was in the womenÂ´s final when Evi Sachenbacher broke a pole on her 1st loop. This put her all the way in the back of the pack, probably 5 or 6 seconds out of 1st. Then to make matters worse, she didnÂ´t know what to do, because there was no German coach around to give her a pole.
Wait a minute, we are in Germany and this is the womenÂ´s final and there is no German coaches with poles? There were plenty of other teams with poles, but no Germans. Huh, thatÂ´s interesting, so she skied probably 400meters all the way to the exchange zone with only one pole. To make matters worse, she fell again because of only having one pole. Not saying the Germans would have won, but in my opinion, not getting a pole cost them a podium today.
On the menÂ´s side, the smart money would have probably bet on the Swedes. However, their Neighbors to the west, had ideas of there own. After some early pace controling by the really tall Swedes, Norway 1Â´s, Eldar Roenning put down the hammer after an exchage and gapped the field by 5 or 10 meters. His more experienced teammate, Tor Arne Hetland, then realized it was still too early and seemed to let the rest catch up. Eventual winner Norway 2 did not really pay any attention to the battle for lead occurring between Norway1 and Sweden1, instead stayed between 4th and 6th place throughout the race. Then on the last lap, Johan Kjoerstad, made his move and went into the lead, with Peter Larson in second and Hetland in third. Coming down the home stretch Kjoerstad took a middle lane and Larson went into the same inside lane that he used to beat Hetland with the day before. Larson gave it his all, but his higher tempo was not nearly enough to match the extremly long powerful strides of the younger Kjoerstad. From my vantage point in the press area, it seemed as though Hetland was stronger than Larson today in the finishing stretch, the only problem was that he was behind him and had no where to go, because Kjoerstad was in the other lane.
DÃ¼sseldorf the Venue : As for the venue in DÃ¼sseldorf, it is the coolest venue and ski race I have ever been to. The course is right between the famous AltStadt, aka, the longest bar in German, because where one bar ends the next begins, and the Rhein River. Also the atmosphere is one that most americans are not used to at ski races. Tens of thousands of people, young and old, turned out for the races, even on saturday in the pouring rain. Most probably do not even ski, however, that did not prevent them from going out and cheering the home team on an cheer they did. It was really loud and festive, I honestly felt like I was a soccer or basketball game/carnival, not a ski race. There were beer tents, vendors, a couple of live music stages, a sleding hill, a snow ball throwing contest, more food and beer tents, 2 or 3 big screen TVÂ´s, and tens of thousands of fans.
The Exchange Zone: This is by far the most interesting place to watch a sprint relay. In the womenÂ´s relay I watch just how fast and calm wax techs can wax skis. The women would come in, then rush over to their designated wax areas, then the techs would take the skis, wax them, sometimes fumble a bit, then give the women back their skis about 10 seconds before they taged off again. The techs never seemed to worry though, and no one missed a tag. The Russians and Italians had a different approach, just use two pairs of skis, this way the athletes donÂ´t have to wait around anxiously, and can instead recover a little more. For the men, there was not as much waxing excitement it the pit area, because the men did two loops opposed to one. However, there were some great falls. My favorite was in the qualification round when Tor Arne Hetland, who was leading, had to shove his was through 2 or 3 other awaiting teams just to tag off. While he was shoving the last team, he got tangle and had to make a diving tag off and ended up crashing down hard barely making the tag. It was physical to say the least.
ThatÂ´s all from DÃ¼sseldorf, but as Julia Tchepalova said today, “the world cup season is still young.”